We are surrounded by binary choices, things seem easier to deal with if they ultimately get filed under good or bad, a glorious success or a crushing failure. However, there is a long held believe by some, including OBLADADA, that the most engaging creative endeavours often have huge but delightful flaws in wholeheartedly attempting the impossible.
The Waves, a new album by Espen Sommer Eide is a wonderful attempt at the impossible and creating something boldly new in the process. The background concept of these 7 tracks spanning almost 50 minutes is a huge maze of dizzying whirlpools. Performed and recording in various rooms in a huge villa in Germany, by a group of players with unique and handmade instruments. Each room, each track being overlaid with spoken or half sung texts centred on Virginia Woolf’s beguiling poetry-prose tale from 1931 – The Waves. Whilst it’s impossible to guess what the installation was like as a gallery experience, as a recorded document it’s as confusingly labyrinthine as it is beautiful.
The book, this sound document uses as its basis, is widely recognised as Woolf’s most experimental. Six children meet in a garden, then chapter by chapter, spotlights each character’s development from childhood to maturity interspersed with ‘interludes from the timeless and unified choruses of nature’.
Like each character in the book, the author’s influences, her life, and this aural reimagining – the characteristics of rooms in the place, the players, the instruments, the sounds they make, and the route taken through the whole experience is a world made of glass. Add the listeners mood, depth of focus, concentration and we have infinite reflective layers. As a process, the complex and convoluted route to the outcome is a key to understanding, like a painting hanging in a gallery or the food placed on a plate, or in this case, just an engagement with what’s seeping out to the speakers, we end up with an invitation to simply experience something new.
Espen Sommer Eide’s years of creativity as one half of Alog as well as his guise of as Phonophani and as a superbly innovative artist is at the inventive heart of The Waves. A miasma of droning, electronic fragments, bowed and struck fantastical instruments and vocals that shapeshift between voice overs, narration, lullaby dreams and pure texture.
It’s an album that’s impossible to dip in and out, every time it’s played, the whole album stretches out in one long beautiful arc. The opener Slaapkamer skittery rhythmic blocks births a spoken passage from the source book. The voice of Mari Kvien Brunvoll occupying a strange electronic subtitled sheen as she outlines English with her Norwegian accent. Weird buzz-sawing acts like punctuation as this bizarre new world gently animates.
There is a long environmental void that Schouwhamer starts to paint before some 4 minutes in, a vocal hum intensifies into a superb machine-soaked drone. Anchored in the mix is formless vocals as children excited play – dappled memories made solid through the vapours.
A clanking mechanised looping rhythm grows out the piano led Poortkamer Tussenkamer and the equally woozy Zolder. The album then heading into a celestial nirvana in the twisting lilting folds of the vast Balazzal Tuinkamer, somewhere between a fairground dream and a thick drone. As the edges start to solidify some 12 minutes in, Sommer Eide’s experiment fully takes flight.
The album draws to a close with gloomy dark smudges of Wintertiun before the fourth wall dissolves in the end credits of Wachtkamer. This time Brunvoll’s voices acting simply as the provider of details you’d normally expect to read on the sleeve.
Ultimately The Waves feel like a recording that breaks completely new ground. It’s a genuine attempt to plot the impossible motions of an excited human brain operating several interlinked processes at once. A mangled and complex web of layers, references and at its heart – a new form of joy.
The Waves is out now on CD and Vinyl on SOFA MUSIC