Bill Seaman‘s The Topologies of Blue is a little sweet and a little scary, like a Sour Patch Kids commercial in reverse. The album is inspired by Gestalt psychology and the treatment of blue conditions. The packaging ~ lovely in letterpress ~ includes disturbing imagery. To listen is to be lulled into a narcotic haze, beautiful yet shrouded. Whenever the piano penetrates the haze, a hint of sunlight emerges, then is leeched by the gray.
There’s no blame in instrumental music, but such is implied by a photo of medicine seemingly forced on a blank-eyed patient. The music conveys a sense of bitter hopelessness as it whispers that everything will be okay, the doctor knows what’s good for you. Wei Ping Lin’s violin notes sweep down the hallway like half-inflated balloons, while Seaman’s ivory notes and light guitar drones draw comparison to The Caretaker. The addition of David Rothenberg on clarinet makes the project seem like a soft consultation; here are the musicians, observing their patients through glass, discussing how best to keep them sedate. And all the while, there are strange noises in the corridors, neither friendly nor unfriendly, but unfamiliar ~ perhaps a cup dragged on the floor, the wheels of a chair moved left to right, a metal food tray scraped. Then there is the cover, eyes redacted, echoes of Stalin’s campaign. The blue, the depressed, the not-quite-right are shunted away from polite society, experimented upon, discharged not quite their former selves ~ in the old days, even lobotomized.
The music is sad, but not dour; dreamy, yet unclear; sleepy yet awake. Passing wonders are smudged by an inability to focus. I must get out of this chair. Is this my baby? Have I eaten? The long track titles combine chapter headings, but their sheer volume causes the mind to blur. In Chapter Five, something resembling a pulse finally breaks through, honoring “Shared Lips” ~ a memory, perhaps, as love in the psych ward is seldom this pretty. In time this too will be snatched away.
The Topologies of Blue conveys shades of a certain mood: curtains closed, cobwebs growing, furniture covered with dust ~ while a person is still in the house. Depression is a dangerous disease, although thankfully better understood and better treated than ever before. Seaman’s music contributes a sense of dignity to those who were once stigmatized, offering empathy to any who may be stigmatized still. (Richard Allen)