On Singe, the most recent release from the Berlin-based musician Angelo Harmsworth, Harmsworth toys with the limits of ambient music. Across each of the album’s seven tracks he toes the line between harsh noise and gentle ambience, querying whether or not the two can co-exist.
Take “Aporia,” the album’s fifth track, as an example. “Aporia” opens with three dissonant tones hovering above a deep bass rumble. Within a few seconds a swirling synthetic drone crescendos to meet it, the various timbres joining to create a rich, dense soundscape. As the track progresses the dynamics of the various pitches each build: harsh, vibrating signals pierce the gentler, undulating sounds, until at the three-minute mark the sonic bottom drops out as a woman’s voice (its only appearance on the album) joins the cacophony of competing sounds. Her whispered words are not quite discernible and the respite from the track’s dissonant soundscape is brief, the various sonic textures and signals reemerge in mere seconds, foreshadowing the way in which Singe’s sea of noise is never stalled for long across the record’s seven tracks.
The word aporia, “an irresolvable internal contradiction,” offers one way of making sense of the experience generated by the layering of noise and ambience that characterizes Singe’s aesthetic. Vibrating, piercing, crackling signals are layered on top of each other in opening track “Igniting the Periphery.” Quieter scraping and humming sounds open “Reversing the Procession.” Each track on the album either opens with or is soon overtaken by what I have no better word for than noise, but each track also foregrounds sets of shimmering, streaky electronic drones. While the steady drones fail to eliminate the more chaotic signals entirely, they imbue their persistent interruptions with a certain elegance. The contrasting rhythms and timbres of the record’s sounds are never united, per se, but they are reconciled, ultimately seeming to coalesce towards a common end rather than compete for dominance. It is as if Harmsworth aims to remind his listeners that the definition of noise is relative: it can only exist in relation to an other.
“Scope Neglect,” the record’s last track opens quietly, a melody is audible but it is buried deep underneath static and space: the melancholic sound of age and decay. It is the most romantic track on Singe, its faint melody a palpable evocation of the constellation of affects which attach themselves to audible traces of technology and the effects of their mediation. Like the harsh noise and ambient droning which augment rather than detract from each other across Singe’s seven tracks, the noise of technology— its failure to accurately or completely preserve or transmit—is rewritten here to be the source of the work’s affective charge. The record ultimately succeeds in its quest to “reconcile disparate sensibilities and sounds,” crafting a beautiful aporia out of the record’s adventurous dialogue between noise and quietness. (Jennifer Smart)