Stijn Hüwels / Norihito Suda – Sleep, Shared

Released in Dec. 2016, ‘Sleep, Shared’ is a split cassette release from Stijn Hüwels and Norihito Suda. The A-side captures a live performance from Hüwels, while the B-side is re-work by Suda…

As the current curator of Slapwel, Hüwels’ task is to ensure the label’s mandate of offering ‘music for sleep’ is continued. With ‘Sleep, Shared’, Hüwels again focuses on sleep, but where the shared aspect comes in to play is via two sources: 1) this was a live performance with an audience present, 2) Hüwels and Suda are playing with the same melodic foundations. To make the whole thing even more Meta, the Hüwels performance on the A-side was built around a melody provided by Suda. So if you’re keeping score: Suda creates melody as source for Hüwels composition, Hüwels adds his own touches over Suda melody, Suda then takes Hüwels composition and re-works. It’s all very cyclical and there’s no wonder that Dauw used the idea of the childhood game of ‘broken telephone’ as an analogy for the experiment.

As for the music: yes, it will almost certainly put a listener in a very calm state if not fully to sleep. But if one listens closely, there’s a sort of science at work to both these compositions. For his part, Hüwels’ opens things by juxtaposing the duality of the natural sounds of birds mixed with the artifice of electronic static. It’s not an obvious way to calm a listener, given all that tension at play. To exacerbate things, Hüwels introduces a new rhythmic center to the mix, which sounds not unlike a train slowly making its way along the tracks and getting ever nearer. Slowly, it rises and rises into the mix, until it feels like a tornado about to unleash damage on the peaceful nature of the composition. So far, none of this should read like the recipe for calm. Sure, the music is quiet but all those opposites in tension, all those invasive sounds doing violence to one another, are not obviously calming– but then Hüwels strips away everything. The invasive rhythmic threat is no more, it was just that – a threat – now dissipated. And now all that’s left is the after-calm. And that’s how Hüwels gets the listener where he wants them. In a sense, Hüwels gives us the storm before he gives us the calm.

Sure, that may sound like a very mechanical breakdown of the work, but really it’s a map of how Hüwels creates an emotional center to the piece that insists the listener let go and relax into the music. The entire piece is analogous to walking to the center of a quiet wood, inching to the sound of a stream where water hits the rocks aggressively, and then walking away from the stream, hearing it recess into the distance behind you.

The Suda re-work is almost an inversion structurally in that it introduces the main melody right away, but is slow to build the periphery noises around and under it. Static sounds figure in here as well but Suda uses something that feels more like an electrical surge, rather than a slow wind. However, what differs the two works is the way Suda let’s the electrical current become more oppressive and buries the majority of the other elements. Still though, the effect is a soothing and hypnotic one just like the original Hüwels piece. And what does link the two pieces is that they spend more time on the denouement than they do the buildup.

‘Sleep, Shared’ is one of those musical experiences where, once you hit play, the mind convinces itself nothing much happens across the 40-minute space of each track. But when you go back and fast-forward in intervals of 5 minutes, it’s patently clear that the music is drastically changed. This is the sort of work you might accidentally take for granted because it works so naturally that it almost feels effortless. Of course, because it feels effortless doesn’t mean it is. Quite the opposite, ‘Sleep, Shared’ is proof of just how much Hüwels and Suda are masterfully in control of their medium.

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