In ‘Desired Place’, Left Hand Cuts Off The Right – the alias of sound artist Robbie Judkins – offers up a suite of exquisite piano meditations whose gradations of movement and decay are so subtle they make William Basinski look like Peter and The Test Tube Babies. Artists working with looped sounds like this (either tape or digital) often major in a kind beatific hypnosis, balancing repetition with progression to evoke trippy meditation, even as they retain conventional earth-bound timescales. Here, though, the opposite is true. Layers of hiss and reverb combine to create a claustrophobic, oppressive vibe, a gnawing tension with no possibility of resolution.
As a result, initial encounters with these four tracks evoke an overwhelming sense of stasis. Judkins’ plangent notes – too random in their odd clusters to be composed by humans, but also strangely coherent – circle around in interminable, directionless repetition. They’re symbolic, perhaps, of the psychic labyrinths that spring up during the dark times, informed by Judkins’ own challenges with his mental health (“The album is part of a continuing process of creating sound as therapy and a distraction for coping with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety,” he says on his Bandcamp). The continued return to the point of origin in these pieces is analogous to our own inability to escape from the mental prison-houses within which we lock ourselves, and which keep us at one remove from the everyday world, unable to get out of bed, have a shower, do any work.
Depression is of course complex and many faceted. It requires those living with the illness to combine medication, therapeutic interventions and lifestyle choices to keep the black dogs at bay. But if ‘Desired Place’ is a depiction, albeit an abstract one, of the desolation that this state of mind produces, Judkins also helps us pick a path out of the maze. Subsequent listens reveal, gradually, how deceptive those first impressions of sonic paralysis and compulsion are. In fact, ‘Desired Place’ works a kind of slo-mo switcheroo on us listeners, tricking us into focusing so intently on its glorious wreckage that we’re unaware how far we’ve travelled.
And, once you’ve noticed its gradual motion, the gradual shifts and transformations that Judkins weaves become hypnotic and compelling in themselves. It’s like the fascination of watching a ‘plane arc slowly across a blue sky, or tracking a tiny snail inching across the garden path. So much so that when gorgeous, flowing melodies break across the gloomy surfaces of ‘Part IV’, the rapture that’s engendered is almost psychedelic. Is this the desired place hinted at by Judkins’ title, a place of consolation and recovery that follows the crawl through the abyss? In any case, coming after the monochrome numbness of what’s gone before, it’s a move that can’t help but thrill.