Who are we? Do we construct who we are? Hit play on this beautiful new album from Jakob Lindhagen and consider that it might not all be as simple as you first thought.
There’s a fascinating episode of Revisionist History, the podcast by Malcolm Gladwell, about Brian Williams, an NBC news anchor who was fired after telling untrue stories on air about an incident in the Iraq war in 2003. According to Williams, the helicopter he’d been flying in was forced to land after being hit by an RPG, a claim that was disputed by the servicemen flying with him. We understandably don’t particularly like it when news anchors lie to us, and it’s not surprising that Williams was let go. Malcolm Gladwell argues, however, that Williams was an unwitting victim of something very human, the construction of memories. According to this theory, every time we tell the story of an incident, we remember not the incident itself, but the last time we talked about the incident. We want to entertain our audience, so we omit certain details, add others, refocus, reshape. When this process is repeated over and over again, as Williams did, the story becomes gradually more embellished until it bears little resemblance to the original events. The scary thing is that we don’t realise that we’ve drifted away from the truth: our story remains true to us, despite our embellishments. When Williams told the story, he believed he was telling the truth; it was only when multiple witnesses came forward to say he was wrong that he realised his error.
Such construction of memory fascinates Lindhagen, who teamed up with the CEEYS brothers Daniel and Sebastian Selke and long-time musical and artistic collaborator Sofia Nystand (aka Vargkvint) to explore the process in this new album, released today on Piano & Coffee Co. In the press release Lindhagen talks of revisiting childhood memories and realising that they were impossible, that they literally could not be true, saying that he “couldn’t help myself also finding beauty in the fact that I both completely trust and distrust my own memories, that make up who I am”. That strange, untrustworthy beauty is evident throughout this album, right from the gentle melancholy of the opening piano strokes of “Tomorrow”, via the central duo “They were never really there” and “Here before”, to the closing trilogy of tracks, “Resurfaced”, “Rewritten”, and “Remembered”.
Fans of Lindhagen’s work will know from 2017’s Paces and last year’s Stadsbilder collaboration with Dag Rosenkvist (here’s our review) that he can be boldly expansive, perhaps channelling Debussy who supposedly said “music is the space between the notes”, and although this is clearly contemporary classical music, there’s something ambient in the approach to many of the tracks. This makes tracks like “Under Water” and “Resurfaced”, which feature the kind of build-up and cathartic release of tension more commonly associated with post-rock, stand out all the more. One of the joys of Lindhagen’s music is his excitement about integrating different timbres, something that stands out particularly in the wonderful “Resurfaced”. By contrast, “Remembered” tenderly closes out the album with the purest piano simplicity. Perhaps Lindhagen is showing us that he has reintegrated his contradictory memories. Perhaps he’s telling us that if we dare to be unsure, to question who we are, to explore rather than suppress our inherent contradictions, the new complexity we unearth will render the world more beautiful. (Garreth Brooke)