Marcus Fischer & Burke Jam – Vanitas

“Sound is a haunting, a ghost, a presence whose location in space is ambiguous and whose existence in time is fleeting. The intangibility of sound is uncanny – a phenomenal presence both in the head, at its point of source and all around, and never entirely distinct from auditory hallucinations. The close listener is like a medium who draws out substance from that which is not entirely there.” – David Toop, Sinister Resonance

Vanitas came about in the winter of 2018. At the time, Marcus Fischer and Burke Jam were involved in a collaborative performance for the Portland ambient series Bloom, and its title, taken from the 17th-century painting tradition which points to the inevitability of change, the transience of vanity, and the ephemerality of human life, fits in well with the fragile morphing of its music. Nothing stays the same forever; nothing remains in one place. Some are allergic to it, averting their eyes from the prospect or avoiding it entirely, but it will always happen. Resistance is futile.

The two musicians share musical and geographic similarities. Fischer’s music draws upon inclement weather patterns, so much a mainstay of Portland, Oregon and a regular feature on The Weather Channel, summoning rain while concentrating on memory and the manipulation of physical audio recording mediums for more of a genuine sound.

The locale breathes through into the music. No matter where one may be, no matter the distance, it’s possible to take a vacation. The only baggage is a pair of headphones.

Working with the delicate and organic nature of tape, the drones give off a warm, balanced, and temperate atmosphere which is still susceptible to change, darkening skies, and the flickering of falling rain; Fischer’s music is music of subtlety and deep listening.

As a composer, artist, curator and educator, Jam explores sound as a means of intervention – ‘questioning and subverting perceptual coherence and relationships with physical place’. He received a Fulbright Grant to Iceland, where he researched environmental sound and methods of listening. Drawing inspiration from the environment (not through any superficial or airy ideas but from active study), Jam’s field recordings and careful, distilled compositional techniques are a form of deep research, actively pursuing acoustic ecology while engaging the listener in the Anthropocene and its effects on sound and surrounding.

A record of meticulous detail would be expected, but it’s not so much about detail as it is the musical content and what it’s capable of. Thankfully, underneath the science, the two collaborators create a rewarding and gentle ecosystem of warm minimalism, finding a pocket of air in which to breed, intelligently executed and deep in its considerations. As is true with dying stars and their interstellar clouds of gas, birth, death, and change are universal realities. Galaxies aren’t immune, either. Closer to home, it’s seen in the changing of the seasons and the opening of nature’s new roots. The evolving drones are quiet and subdued shape-shifters. Slightly exotic and warmer tones come to greet the listener amicably, but nothing feels forced. Instead, the soft hues change colour as the music changes temperature, oscillating between small, almost-imperceptible degrees and tiny differences in current and flow.

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