Friday, 22 April 2011


I've really been enjoying listening to Sleep Research Facility's album Nostromo a lot lately which--as you might have guessed--is inspired by the film Alien. As Kevin Doherty has revealed in an interview:

Those that have heard of SRF will probably know you through the Nostromo CD that was released by Cold Spring Records a while ago. This was, as the name suggests, promoted as a soundtrack prelude to the Alien film. Why did you choose to follow such a concept? Does Alien, or the imagery in the film, have any special place for you?

KD:  “Soundtrack prelude to the Alien film”, that's a terrific description. Yeah, "Alien" is my favourite film (I'm big into films and I really like good incidental music) and as a quiet haunting environment the ship "Nostromo", on which the story takes place, is second to none. Also, it seems to me to be really highlighted during the film's first moments – those introductory slow panning shots, there's a strange sense of abandonment so the whole project is kind of inspired by this opening sequence of scenes. Also one can't help but always associate deep space travel with some kind of hyper-sleep or suspended animation, so that theme is almost automatically present as well, though that wasn't really a deciding factor in choosing the subject matter (it's really about the ship, not the people sleeping in it). I suppose I tried to create an aural equivalent of these sensations one might feel, all alone exploring this vast dark place, cut off from everything and everyone -- nothing (apparently) happening, just you and the environment, no distraction, no conversation, not really overtly nightmarish but still curiously tense in some otherworldly and dreamlike way -- something lurks in the shadows but it never jumps right out to scare you, it's maybe a bit like sneaking around in the dead of night when everyone else is asleep, which can be fun and at the same time maybe a bit un-nerving in a compelling sort of way".

It's very hard to capture the kind of structure of feeling I attempted to evoke in my previous posting concerning the work of Darren Jorgensen, which I detect again listening to Nostromo. But how could it be otherwise, when you are dealing with something on the edges of semantic availability? No doubt there will be proponents of so-called "dark vitalism" out there who will soon turn their attention in earnest to this style of ambient music, leading to all sorts of imaginings along the lines perhaps of Deleuze and Guattari's invoking of how Lovecraft's... (should take me five minutes to try to plug into this style of thinking...first I have to create an appropriate search string; wait! I've found something already, ok, let's go then) (ahem!) ...stories become most abstract when he attempts to encounter the plane through the exquisitely minimal, imperceptible haecceities...but of course the plane cannot be encountered. Things emerge through the plane, but the plane does not exist unto itself. Deleuze and Guattari say of music that "there is a transcendent compositional principle that is not of the nature of sound, that is not 'audible' by itself or for itself. This opens the way for all possible interpretations" (TP 266). The horror of Lovecraft's cosmos comes because "it" is not. Through access to the different organisational principles of the cosmos, his protagonists are faced with the truly voluminous and thus mind-shattering infinity of variations and immanent-interpretations (not reflections) of states of perception.

This would be music as a liberating practice that opens gates to what Patricia MacCormack (who I have been borrowing from here) describes as "an infinite territory beyond representation, signification, and perception itself". Could it be that Matt Howarth is attempting a similar gesture in his stories about isolated characters who attain "enriched visions" through personal transfiguration? Howarth is a particularly interesting figure in this context I think because he has long incorporated electronic musicians as characters in his works, with Enriched Visions paying tribute to onetime Lustmord collaborator, and outstanding ambient composer in his own right, Robert Rich. Indeed, the book features a dialog between the two about the parallels between the stories and Rich's own compositions. A dark vitalist might go further by quoting MacCormack's observation to the effect "that these relations force alternate modes of perception without laying new structures of apprehension, finally leading to the function of art as catalysing becomings in the reader/listener by demanding alternate perceptions of relation with any and all entities". 

And so to an overview of the stories in question:

"A collection of short science fiction and surreal stories by Matt Howarth based on the compositions of ambient pioneer Robert Rich. Embark on a series of fantastic voyages, where you’ll encounter: the link between a massive brushfire and aboriginal cave art, a mathematician’s quest into the desert, giant lizards orbiting the Earth, an old man captivated by dancing moss in a park, a kidnapping in the new Ice Age, the music a lonely lighthouse keeper uses to while away the nights, the fate of the last Martians, the unnatural hunger of Dame Procol’s new lifeforms, a man in search of amnesia, an antique dealer specializing in artifacts from the 21st Century’s texplosion era, an alien spire that reaches beyond the sky, and more. This book also features story notes in which Howarth and Rich discuss the connections between the stories and the source music."

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