Lia Kohl ~ The Ceiling Reposes

The title is taken from a love poem by William Jay Smith.  The full stanza:  “Now touch the air softly / swing gently the broom. / I’ll love you ’til windows are all of a room; / And the table is laid, And the table is bare, / And the ceiling reposes on bottomless air.”  The sentiments are sensical and non-sensical all at once, an inversion of expectation and natural law.

From this starting point, Lia Kohl embarks on a “curious” journey, the word inextricably linked to Alice in Wonderland, curiouser and curiouser.  The Ceiling Reposes may also be likened to Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise, as it recognizes that dialogue seldom takes place in a vacuum; conversations overlap and background noise intrudes.

The foreground may be banal, the background enticing: Kohl’s found sounds, radio snippets and field recordings take on new meaning in new contexts.  Ignoring the famous admonition, “Don’t touch that dial,” Kohl does nothing but touch the dial, traveling up and down the bandwidth until something strikes her fancy, pausing only until it passes.  To this she adds her own instruments, or the other way around: cello, kazoo, concertina, wind machine, synthesizer, bells.  The mix sounds nearly apocalyptic, like a transmission sent into space and retrieved after the fall of civilization.

Static and chimes form the first of many juxtapositions.  A melody emerges like an anchor, then disappears, as the attention shifts to a television, to another melody, to the S & P 500, to birdsong.  The sonics shift like quicksand.  The last words of “in a specific room” are “we don’t know how much time we have left on this earth, so …”  The invitation is open-ended.

A brief weather dispatch calls to mind Daniel Bachman’s Almanac Behind.  Again the ending is cryptic: all things, all things, all things.  The phrase seems Biblical, an impression amplified by an abraded choir.  Kohl seems to be tuning, seeking a clearer signal.  The train whistle blows, the water laps, the drumsticks play.  The listener is never sure where or when they are, although temporal allusions abound: “the moment a zipper,” “became daily today,” “like time.”

The “caught between two stations” effect may be distracting, but it’s also honest; in real life, the phone rings while we are watching TV, or a loved one talks over our Spotify playlist.  Inevitably, one source receives more attention than the other.  In addition, Kohl’s collages emphasize random impacts and haphazard meanings.  Awash in sound, natural and artificial, the mind seeks patterns, but sometimes plucks strands from the ether and imbues them with a sense of importance.  When nothing seems to make sense – for example, when the ceiling reposes on bottomless air – the ear seeks an anchor, which for Smith is love and for Kohl is sound itself.  (Richard Allen)

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