O esplendor natural das coisas e inferno
The more I listen, the less the Cagean dictum “let sounds be themselves” seems sufficient to describe the aesthetics of much of the more interesting experimental music currently being made. Take the title of d’incise’s album-length work “O esplendor natural das coisas e inferno” as a symptom: “The natural splendour of things” seems straightforward enough, but what about this “and hell”? Were things in themselves not naturally splendid enough? Or did they need something else to swell up from beneath, something perhaps _un_natural, or at the very least ambiguous, in order to heat up their naturalness until it oozed, molten — in order to be perceived?
It turns out that the work’s title is a mosaic of fragments from several titles of books by the Portuguese author Antonio Lobo Antunes. I’ve never read anything by Antunes, so I can’t comment on whether the music in any way evokes or enacts key themes or motifs from his work. I can however report that many of the sounds used by d’incise remind me of the rumble and whistle of steam trains, the crackling of small fires, or the trickling of water, though I suspect that at least some of them are made by percussive objects and analogue electronics. As on many of the Swiss artist’s releases, they are quiet, subdued, and discrete, being presented in ones or twos, with frequent silent pauses. The round, often consonant tones present their surfaces without comment — and yet, to me, there seems to be something vaguely ominous and unsettling about them, almost as if hearing the sounds of a war from a great distance away. The music is low-key enough that the occasional sudden cut between sounds doesn’t feel abrupt, yet this device also contributes to a certain sense of unease. The crescendo of sorts, in the last few minutes of the piece, feels like a continuation, rather than a culmination, of this ambivalence.
What I guess I’m trying to say is that there is something qualitatively different about this music that distinguishes it from sonically similar, yet more arbitrary species of sound, such as the gently hissing radiators or quiet rumbles of traffic that we, good Cageans that we are, all know and love. One hears something lurking underneath the rippling surface. There are some very beautiful moments in ‘O esplendor natural’, when a handful of tones and timbres fall together in a way that just feels right, seemingly without needing to reference any external thought or emotion. Yet in the end I feel left with a number of fragments — old photographs, scattered notes, a line from a poem — that all seem aligned to point in the same direction, though towards what I’m still not quite sure. This is fine, beguiling music from a very talented musician.