Mooching around Tate Modern the other day I came across Barnett Newman’s Moment. Completed in 1946, it is a painting made up of a striking vertical band of yellow, cutting in half the background of browny-green splurge. According to the Tate website, it dramatizes the moment of creation, a moment of singularity that brings the universe into being. It’s hypnotic and dazzling, a streak of lightning flashing across the dark.
I keep thinking of this painting as I listen to Aqua Dentata’s latest release, The Cygnet Procambarus. I’ve been a fan of Aqua Dentata (aka Eddie Nuttall) ever since I came across Ten Thousand Wooden Faces last year, and this new piece is as focused and coherent as you’d expect. A single 20-minute drone piece, it carves out a gleaming pillar of sound, assembled by from synths, metal sheets and shells and recorded by Nuttall apparently ‘at home and by a river’.
The sound is almost physical. A wonderfully sensuous low hum is overlaid with a metallic mid-frequency whine. The undulating sound has a gleaming, crosshatched patina, as if fashioned from some 51st century supermaterial.
More synths are added, building the track into a complex, shifting aura. As it ends, rather than a soothing fade, Nuttall brings in a chorus of taps and scrapes, as if the work is being dismantled.
I feel as if our fragile human conception of time and space has been slowly dismantled, my brain rewired to see the millions of years of the universe’s existence as massive interlocking tableau. Like Newman’s canvas, it brings order out of chaos in a single, timeless moment.
It’s a feeling magnified a thousand times when I see him playing a piece very similar to this, at the clammy, boxy basement at Dalston’s Power Lunches a few weeks ago. The sound drills of out the PA like white-hot laser through the void, seemingly aimed at a spot right in the centre of my forehead.
Kevin Sanders, in contrast, has produced four tracks, spread across two releases that are positively Tellurian, wracked with the stresses and pains of living in the material world. Together they hint at the numbing repetition of the daily grind and the impossibility of finding moments of respite, even during periods, which should be downtime.
The first of the pair, The Weekday, is complex, multifaceted beast, insidious drones and warped, scummy noise that is insidiously coercive.
At first, things seem chilled out, with long, long tones not a thousand miles away from a harmonium. But they’re gradually overtaken by a serious piercing screeches and bludgeoning mechanical roars.
The sounds dominate the spectrum and leave little room for thought or dissent. It’s as if we’re slowly being absorbed into the machine. The message is clear. You’re one of us now.
The accompanying release, Evenings & Weekends, enact the results of this assimilation. Evening and Evening, Again are cantankerous growls of ugly noise, urban stress embodied. Their surges and screeches are the sonic equivalent of your brain after a gruelling day at work, all jangling nerves and screaming synapses. Evening, Again has a particularly skull crushing segment just over halfway through, mournful wails hammered by a phased, repeating drone that is truly oppressive.
Weekend’s drones are calmer and more reflective. But there’s an edge to them, an unease lurking around the edges like a tiny chunk of grit in your eye. It’s the awareness that any respite is only temporary, the dull inevitability that Monday morning, or the next shift, will swing round again far too quickly, and that you were probably thinking about work most of the time you were away from it anyway.
Like Jonathan Crary’s Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, these three pieces rail against the encroachment of work into almost every part of our lives, all of the time, slowly eroding our sanity and knackering us out.
They challenge us to disconnect, to say no, to measure our fulfillment in new ways, to push at the cracks that let the light in.