Black Swan – Heaven
In 2001, novelist Don DeLillo published The Body Artist. At the time it seemed rushed, but only because the buzz for Underworld — his massive, 827-page theory-of-everything — was just starting to wane. The two novels could not have been any more different. By comparison to its 1997 predecessor, The Body Artist was short, claustrophobic in scope, and asked its large questions in a much smaller voice. Periodicals that praised one novel praised the other, for precisely the opposite reasons.
It is difficult not to compare Black Swan’s latest release to The Body Artist, his fellow New Yorker’s now-inevitable answer to Underworld. Drones For Bleeding Hearts comes fresh off of the April release Aeterna, a crashing, 63-minute manifesto that A Closer Listen called “the rare hat trick of experimental music.” Two months will separate Aeterna and the forthcoming Heaven, but this is no Kid A/Amensiac parallel. As was the case with Swan’s debut album, the topography of Heaven is much flatter, and the work is only meaningfully heard as a whole. And unique among all of his catalog, the tape noise is largely quiet, the listener is scarcely aware of repetition at any scale, and the celestial coldness gives way to solar flares.
Swan’s dualities still populate this “stereophonic recording,” which boasts a cover photograph of arcing fire (heaven/hell), and this is his second release to be divided into eight movements. While the thematic ties between Aeterna and Swan Lake were indirect (its dedication to “Leda” recalls the Greek myth), Heaven, the fourth Black Swan installment, mirrors the fourth act of the opera in which Siegfried and Odette drown, then ascend to … you get the idea.
But while dualities and connections to Swan Lake make for great copy, it took Swan’s brief conversation with a first-time interviewer to explain just what he is up to. He says, “[ambient/drone] is, for the most part, a key element for building up dramatic/horrific tension in cinema. Everyone experiences drone and doesn’t realize it.” So these are the anxious moments in film, those just before the burst of violin, cello, or concert bass drum, but stretched into album-length intervals. The artist lists the closing movements of Aeterna and Heaven as among his favorite tracks, and this is why. The listener has been nearly paralyzed with tension, and is now amply rewarded for the patience.
Take the dueling, mournful fog horns of “Part II,” perched over the spinning of a low-RPM motor (the same interview implies this could be an air conditioning unit, but part of the fun here is speculating, often wrongly). Strings, real or imagined, form a barely-perceptible melody. So begins a jaw-clenching build up that does not resolve for another half-hour. The human voice, such as it is, returns in “Part V,” warped by limestone slowness beyond any trace of phrasing or language, until all that remains is essence and breath. ”Part VI” is the most orchestral of the first seven sections: the vertiginous bowing of strings is quite literal and discernible (in a forthcoming discussion with Fluid, the artist will admit to having considered a live, gentle reworking of his albums with an orchestra, similar to those of Christina Vantzou).
It culminates in “Part VIII,” ten minutes of rich, oscillating ambient. Deadlines loom, so let’s just agree on “synthesizer” for that steely, flash-frying instrument that whips up between strings, brass, and organ. (It could be processed harmonica, bagpipes, or hurdy-gurdy, but again, part of the enjoyment here is guessing wrongly, off the record.) As with all of Black Swan’s finales, there are too many composing elements to count, never a trace of dissonance, and the tempo is only what you make it. But the final moments open the curtains, if only slightly, for the closest thing to a conventional finish we’ve seen from him. The parallel lines all swell into an open-throated call, and then come to rest. Even if only two months more pass, we can only guess blindly about what sort of future composing direction he is previewing here with “Part VIII.”
Heaven is an effortless, complicated, and unexpected work. Pre-order it from the artist directly, in CD format in a limited edition of 100. “Includes hand numbered album card, black on black disc and bonus track.” Ship date will be June 15 or before.
- Anonymous for Fluid Radio