What’s often striking about Jana Irmert’s debut album “End of Absence” are the ways in which various synthetic and/or processed sounds can seem uncannily natural or nature-like, and vice-versa, as if some post-singularity race of mechadroids had decided to fix a nature bereft by extinctions through creating landscapes of hybrid machines. The opening title track is probably the clearest example of this, with its cicada-like chirruping and gusts of wind, the pastoral quietness and slowness not quite managing to naturalise the intermittent rattle and buzz of metallic flora and fauna. The soothing vocal chords and sweeping hum would be as relaxing as a tourist-brochure forest walk, if it wasn’t for the unobtrusive yet persistent interruption of abstract electronically-generated sounds. But perhaps the overwhelming strangeness or otherness of organic nature is precisely what the piece succeeds in communicating?
‘Obstacles’ is another piece that bears a striking resemblance to a ‘natural’ scene, its regular quiet crashing of waves and rumbles of distant thunder creating the impression of a coast at nighttime. The more obviously sculpted and processed sounds that are heard — such as a sharp wail, squelching and sawing bass, a hissing like a slow wave receding through shingle, and resonant ringing of metal, all quiet and muted — provide tension and perhaps a sense of threat. For all I know, some of these sounds could be recordings of ‘real’ natural phenomena; either way, the music provokes an uncertainty about the nature and origin of what is being heard, a feeling both unsettling and intoxicating. (Later research revealed that many of the pieces were composed for outdoor installations or audiovisual use, and do, in fact, make use of recordings of environmental sounds, alongside electronically generated ones.)
The Berlin-based musician’s voice provides the driving force for other tracks on the album, particularly on ‘bagful’ where the detached, emotionally blank delivery and fractured phrasing sits at odds with the statement’s confessionalist semantic content. Wordless vocalisations are turned into rhythms to propel ‘untitled (slow)’, while ‘T like a cross’ features faint murmuring alongside quiet glimmers, crackling, and a sort of scrunching sound like trampling through the undergrowth of a deserted island forest. Irmert’s sounds are detailed and often rough in timbre, though the quiet, muted dynamics of the album create an impression of absorption and interior reflection rather than aggression, again blurring the lines between experienced and imagined landscapes. This is music I’d love to hear diffused on a multichannel system, but failing that this two-channel collection is well worth a listen.