“A Void” builds on Kostis Kilymis’ previous work with electronics and field recordings, as heard on the 2015 releases “Bethnal Greener” and “Crystal drops / Ground loops (a line, obscured)”. The new record happens to share its title with the English translation of Georges Perec’s La Disparition, a lipogrammatic novel written entirely without using the letter ‘e’. In the book, the protagonists slowly become aware of the absence of the missing vowel, but are wary of discussing it, as breaking the novel’s constraint appears to come with a death sentence. What is it that is deliberately kept missing from Kilymis’ music, I wonder; what presence has removed itself to leave behind a void?
The four tracks of the album are composed from a mesh of field recordings, with additional sounds created by the manipulation of electronics (though the boundaries between the in-situ and added sounds are often very blurred). The field recordings gather traces of typical urban environments: birdsong, voices, passing aeroplanes, and road traffic all feature. The track ‘Down there (là-bas)’, however, sounds like it was recorded in a subway system, probably the Underground network of London where Kilymis is based; the roar of the train in a tunnel and the squeal of brakes is quite distinct. Like all good voids, the Underground is a dark, airless place in which it is very easy to get lost; it can also be quite empty and anonymous, particularly late at night. When the album emerges from the urban depths for the final track ‘Another Room’, it’s almost as if the passengers have carried this emptiness and anonymity with them to their rented rooms quivering with the distant rumble of traffic and the muted shouts of neighbours.
Some find this emptiness and quietness soothing; it wouldn’t surprise me if there are Londoners who go to the Underground during off-peak hours just to soak this nothingness in, much as coastal dwellers frequently go to stare at the sea. As music, I also find this representation of urban quiet and solitude to offer a calming, restorative sort of headspace, probably more so than I do actual urban quiet and solitude. I think it was “The Good Life”, Kilymis’ collaboration with Sarah Hughes, that I once described as a long soak in a warm bath, and “A Void” has a similar affect; yet there are frequent traces of melancholy and unpredictability that prevent things from becoming too safe. In the search for quiet respite in the city, one inevitably encounters many absences.