Janek Schaefer – What Light There Is Tells Us

Back in 2014, British sound artist Janek Schaefer was commissioned by Canterbury’s Sounds New Festival to craft an original piece of music made entirely out of Robert Wyatt’s Cuckooland. There’s no jazz-fusion here. Instead, the original record has been deconstructed. What Light There Is Tells Us Nothing constantly changes over its twenty-one minute lifespan, its differing structures melting pleasantly and its cut & pasted outtakes wedging themselves into a light and chapel-sized drone. You can hear the track segueing as a light, gaseous sound emerges, billowing into the track and then taking it over, throwing smoke over the old drone and replacing it with a darker sound.

Regular dimensions are abandoned as the music transmits from an alternate world, its decontextualized sound rebounding across unknowable airwaves. Vocals ghost in and out, and the tin-like breaths of an alien species fall upon familiar piano melodies. Drums invert, collapsing in on themselves. Schaefer is having fun, and the darker, spliced experimentation is candy for the ears. Discordant tones occupy the same space as a full-bodied and calming drone, gelling together but also feeling quite isolated and disembodied, somehow appearing to be both contemporary and ageless.

Schaefer creates a fascinating sound world where a surprise or three is always around the corner. His musical playground includes seven other new compositions, although the title piece is worth the price of admission alone. ‘Tree at the End of the World’ sounds like an old English fairy-tale as it lightly skips through the woods. There’s a sinister tint to its evolving atmosphere, as to get to grandma’s house, the ever-innocent Little Red Riding Hood must tread lightly over old sampled sounds. Brooks are covered in strange moss, and snapping twigs reveal a wolf lurking behind the trees.

Schaefer’s plunderphonics are playful, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, and vintage English in the use of vocal snippets and classic actors, but there are strong messages of morality behind its light ornamentation. The unfurling drone lives at the centre of an eternal forest. ‘Round in Circles’ goes in circles, prancing through fields of wheat like a certain Prime Minister, strolling cheerfully (or insanely) around a joyous (or deranged) loop, its flowery melody turning like a Victorian music-box. Schaefer playfully explores the sonic canvas, melding musique concrète with Lovecraftian dreams and tales from Scarfolk, where queasy and uneasy vibes sleep among the bright flowers and the greenery of the rolling hills, drunk on the last of its Summer wine.


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