Sergio Merce – be nothing

Sergio Merce - be nothing, black and white image of an empty beach covered in haze

“Why are we frightened to be nothing?” That’s the question asked in the sleeve of Sergio Merce’s new album “be nothing”, opposite a picture of what looks like a deserted beach covered in haze. The single hour-long track features microtonal saxophone, analogue synth, and electronics, an unusual instrumentation for label Edition Wandelweiser. Long, oscillating chords, slow development, and a wide spectrum of pitches and pitch relations suggest a concern with subjective experiences of time, space, and duration, bringing the piece close to ambient electronic music. What it shares in common with other Wandelweiser releases is the use of extended silence between phrases. But how should listeners take this injunction to “be nothing”?

The existential embrace of nothingness would perhaps stand at odds with liberal humanist values such as human rights, which require definite subjects — somethings — in order to obtain. However, there’s maybe something to be said for the experience of letting go, a loosening of our fierce attachment to selfhood, in order to become aware of other realms of being that vibrate at different frequencies and durations to the human. For example, understanding climate change can be facilitated by an experience that approximates, as far as we can perceive, the multi-millennial durations of geological and climatological time, allowing us to grasp the unprecedented suddenness with which the climate of our planet has altered since we started pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere on a large scale. So the music slows, slows, deepens, holds…

Climate change was probably far from Merce’s mind when he composed “be nothing”. Still, like the best ambient music, the piece encourages and facilitates a kind of emptying-out that leaves us open to receive the world cast through other frames of reference, be they other-than-human or simply unconcerned with the everyday noise that seeks to monopolise and monetise our attention. Nothing is not what the music is — some of it is pretty loud and present, particularly the deep bass rumbles — but what it requests that you become in order to fully perceive its becoming. Being nothing, and hearing everything: a transformative and enjoyable state worth spending time in, surely.

Edition Wandelweiser

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