In the spring of 2012 US-born, Japan-based musician Will Long, otherwise known as Celer, embarked on a short tour of The Netherlands and Germany with Dutchmen Machinefabriek and Jan and Romke Kleefstra, accompanied at times by Anne-Chris Bakker and video artist Marco Douma (my review of their concert in The Hague can be found in the Fluid archives). During this time the core ‘gang of four’ found time for a day’s recording at a studio in the Frisian town of Gau. The edited results of this session have now been released on Monotype Records, with the name CMKK referring to the quartet of Celer, Machinefabriek, and the two Kleefstras. The album presents itself as a single long-form track, and although transitions between takes are clearly audible, the sense of one cohesive and coherent work prevails.
Romke Kleefstra once rebuffed my attempt to connect the music he makes with his brother and various collaborators to the stark and relentlessly flat Frisian landscape, pointing out (quite correctly) that the makers of so-called ‘landscape music’ are often based in cities. Well, “Gau” is both less and more than a landscape record: less, in the sense that a concrete picture of a particular identifiable place never quite emerges; more, in that the album could never be reduced to something as simple or obvious as an attempt to capture the essence of a given environment. Why bring up the notion of landscape at all, then? To me it just seems to be the best framework with which to convey a sense of what listening to “Gau” is like. It comes down to a certain impassiveness, a mute yet highly charged disposition behind the rattling Jazzmaster guitar, the quiet delivery of poetry, and the rumbling, inwardly-turned synths, samples and scrapes.
By “impassive”, I mean that “Gau” does not set out to create ‘special effects’ through the mimicking of landscape feelings or emotions, an intention usually signalled by the phrase “Inspired by…”. The philosopher Immanuel Kant captured these emotions well in his notion of the sublime, in which the sovereignty of the human subject is reaffirmed by the mighty grandeur of a landscape viewed from a safe distance. No such security is present in “Gau”. Rather, the nature in which the album is immersed begins at the point when such human subjectivity starts to break down. The voice of the “I” in Jan Kleefstra’s poetry struggles to distinguish itself from the buzzing of the wind; the radio voice of a Japanese woman bounces off the psyche in the same way, and to the same extent, as a fleeting round of birdsong. In the face of surging, indifferent nature, one’s own sense of self appears paper-thin. What “Gau” induces is not the sublime thrill of transcendence, but a shudder.
Rarely has Jan Kleefstra’s voice clung so barely to presence as it does on “Gau”, a phenomenon accentuated by the evasive, amorphous colours of Celer’s ambiances (and it is well worth getting hold of the CD edition to read the English translations of the poems). Machinefabriek’s contributions are everywhere yet nowhere, quietly disappearing into the general hubbub of things; the musical maturation he demonstrated on last year’s “Secret Photographs” continues apace. And Romke Kleefstra’s guitar billows like gusts of wind through an open door, rattling the frame. Anyone doubting that this form of music isn’t capable of producing truly significant works of art need only listen closely to “Gau” to be convinced otherwise; everyone else needs to just listen.