Are we still in the digital era, or have we passed into something yet unnamed? (Please don’t call it “post-digital”!) While many of us never abandoned our love for vinyl, a new generation has embraced it, and with the love for the groove comes an openness to new forms. Today’s music fans embrace retro formats and the DIY ethic on one hand, while celebrating new technologies and hybrid releases on the other: not Luddites, but forward thinkers. A release such as Stills would not have hit the market in an era led by major labels, but is made possible in a fractured musical universe.
Stills is the first release for France’s IIKKI Books, whose publishing director, Mathias Van Eecloo, is also the man behind Eilean Records. The series concept is the pairing of visual and sonic artists to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Each artist ~ in this case, collage photographer Katrien De Blauwer and musician Danny Clay ~ brings a potential new fan base to the feet of the other. IIKKI suggests that each component may be enjoyed alone or together, and while each is available separately, the full release allows for greater overall appreciation.
The Janus-like nature of the presentation is reflected in the work of each artist. Katrien De Blauwer creates photographic collages that evoke distant memories and immediate longings. Mysterious spliced images, stolen from the past, are given new context. Sepia-toned images nestle against each other for comfort. The book is big (30 cm x 22 cm), but not heavy; the images are given room to breathe, one on each page.
What manner of score might reflect hours of poring over ancient photographs with the thought of stitching them together? Danny Clay’s work possesses an abraded patina that fits the project perfectly. Tape loops wobble, piano notes fall out of tune, static stains the edges. The layer of dust that lies across the photographs finds access points in the music, like clumps on diamond tips. The track numbers are dates without explanations, like those scrawled on the backs of photographs. A warm hum pervades the third and twelfth tracks, washing over the damaged notes. In the fourth and tenth, sullen strings contribute an aura of sadness. Emotions creep up on the listener, like the accumulated weight of rumination.
What happened on these days? We’ll never know, just as we’ll never know the origin of De Blauwer’s photographs. We’re left with impressions and projections, the taste of mingled feelings we can’t quite identify, as elusive as cottonwood seeds on the wind. The feeling that answers lurk deep in the music and in photography leads us back, again and again, searching for clues. The journey is bittersweet, but satisfying. Next up: the music of Andrea Belfi meets the images of Matthias Heiderich. A warm congratulations to the IIKKI imprint for an impressive launch! (Richard Allen)