Tsembla ~ The Hole In the Landscape

A certain disjointedness pervades A Hole In the Landscape, as if history had taken an alternate route in which Pierre Schaeffer was the preeminent electroacoustic composer of the 20th century and not, arguably, Karlheinz Stockhausen. Every sound deployed by Tsembla remains suspended in the ambiguity between analog and digital, between approachability and hard distancing. Every melody in the album grows like a fractal from an aural mass, like the beauty of a seaside cliff emerging from the gradual movements of the earth over millions of years. Like the cliff, said aural mass overwhelms the senses by means of a seemingly immense density of detail, and yet, after the first breath-taking view, the mind adapts to its form so as to not go mad with input. A Hole plays constantly with these psychedelic twists and turns, the acousmatic a function of disorientation, pushing the listener towards an uncertain space in which the usual categorizations we have for certain rhythms and certain types of sound are rendered useless.

And yet, there’s an impulse to resist simply letting go, an impulse to rationalize, to attempt to ascertain that the cliff is not like that as a result of a process unintelligible, but because there is a reason behind it. A hole in a landscape is, after all, a failure of the mind to picture totality, it is both a reminder of an existence in escape and a steady reminder of the limits of our consciousness. “Gravitating Bones”, in its first few seconds, sounds like a low-key electronic dirge, but then, all of a sudden, a glissando high-pitched sound breaks that initial dark mood and takes it into a more melancholic, lingering sense of loss. The pace is unexpectedly uneven, and yet there is a center keeping it all together always slightly outside the field of hearing; a series of sounds like whale song breaks through the melancholy, but it is not the “relaxation for your baby” kind of whale song, it is of the “trapped in a fishing net, screaming” kind. It’s more likely a muffled, distorted human scream, but its acousmatic ambiguity is not meant for the appreciation of the sound itself, taking one step further and opting instead for the appreciation of that sound’s loss of meaning.

The hole through which meaning perpetually slips through also means that everything around it, apparently stable and set in stone, is constantly being redefined: the album shifts in tone once and again, and yet remains consistent; it dispenses with rhythm and buzzes with drones one moment only to return to it in the pretty, weird meditation of “Penumbra”; it stamps out all predictability only to grab dearly onto repetition in the title track… the electroacoustic experiments of the album, against the futurist’s abandonment of the analog, always go back to the context in which listening is fundamentally a pleasure. Every loss of meaning is accompanied by the reconstitution of everything else, the landscape a mirror of the mind at work, the moment in which the overwhelming experience of the cliff provides a scale rendition of our place in the world. “Phantom Limbs” grows a polyphony of beeps under melodic electronics, sometimes at ease, but many times also in a way that is uncomfortable, that does not follow the “correct” rhythm, that awkwardly underlines the uneasy sensation of something that both is and isn’t there by simultaneously playing off its sounds against each other as well as in complement. Like Schaeffer did in his time, Tsembla is making experimental music that does not ultimately lead to the erasure of all pasts, but that grabs onto to them in order to question and redefine, never losing sight of what listening is actually like. (David Murrieta)

 

 

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