Do you believe in ghosts? In his book, Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures, Mark Fisher explored themes of being haunted by futures that failed to happen. Inner monologues contain their own hauntings, but the supernatural kind shouldn’t be ruled out, the supernatural in this instance being an entirely natural phenomenon that goes beyond current scientific understanding or explanation.
A spectral presence seems to occupy Without. It either crosses over into the physical world naturally and by its own accord or is called unexpectedly forward via an evening séance, but it’s also the ghost of a past that leaks into the present and refuses to stay buried.
Death colours, overshadows, and influences everything in this life, but Andrew Sherwell’s latest ambient record, released through Shimmering Moods Records, seems to suggest that, in the final, concluding seconds, there’s no need to fear; everything is okay, and will be once again. What is there to fear, when angels are there to call one home at the moment of departure? When the eyes go blank and the music stops, when the erosion of the world’s background noise – static, hisses, and crackles – finally ceases, there isn’t anything to do other than for the soul to leave the body and drift into an upward shaft of light.
The afterlife is hinted at here, but with music as divine as this, Heaven appears to have already broken through. This isn’t a clichéd chorus or a choir of angelic song, but rather the exhalation of a long-dead monk or a wisp of cooler air in a temperature-controlled room. It’s the sound of footsteps in the same room when there’s no one else around, and the feeling of another being present. A faint melody is sung in the background, but it arrives in stages and swells of reverb, perfuming the room with a tantalising glimpse of something beyond, but trailing off before a definitive answer can be given. Both answer and truth lies in the heart rather than the mind, and Sherwell’s music is of the heart. Something is breaking through, but it happens in a subtle way, which makes it all the more dramatic. Above all, the ambient leaves one feeling light-headed and at peace.
Although the music has a spiritual side, it can be easy to entangle oneself in its spirituality. The ambient is thin enough to belong to the air, the kind of ambient that engulfs and enwraps one completely, leaving one comfortable and secure in the shadow of its wings. The music is sparse and still feels complete, but the title of Without speaks of a loss. The song, the ghostly cry, is lost in the air. There’s a painful longing to reach out to someone dear, but the chasm between life and death separates them. In this world, things break and fall apart; things live and die.
There are other deaths than the bodily kind, and some are more painful than the inevitable one. Andrew Sherwell processes this with delicacy and a slightly mournful air settles over the sighs, the lower rumblings. But there’s also a great clarity to the music, of finally breathing fresh air after a realisation and a polluted mind set free of worry. This is a taste of Heavenly music. Believers and non-believers can both appreciate music as sensitive and as heart-wrenching as this. Go then, there are other worlds than these.
Hearing is the last sense to go.