Dissonance is often shunned in favour of harmony – you’ll never see too much of it utilised in popular music or, for instance, appearing in the UK’s Top 40 chart – but it’s a crucial part of music, and of life itself. These jagged sounds are just as relevant as their sunshine-tanned neighbours, perhaps even, from time to time, being a necessary part of music and giving voice to important feelings that can’t be expressed in any other way.
Major harmonies can’t sugar-coat or represent all of life’s experiences, because everyone suffers from time to time. People want to cover up dissonance, turn their backs to it, and pretend it doesn’t exist. But dissonance and harmony are siblings, and they’re closer than you’d think.
A normal day can quickly spiral into a nightmare, and there’s something obscure and sour about these off-key janglings, a gathering shadow forming at the edge of silence and dust. Change can happen suddenly and without warning.
That was the case with ‘Music for Empty Rooms’.
The empty rooms in question refer to Lowered’s move to a new house (a house, not a home) in a strange town following the death of his wife. Primarily, it’s an album of absence and grief. Its unfathomable silence is louder than the music could ever be. Where once her presence was felt, there is now nothing.
‘Distance Flooded Us’, the third and final piece, ushers in a rootless piano and an uncomfortable, sustained cello. The distance has flooded the couple; one cannot cross over to embrace the other. Even if there is an afterlife, their longed-for reunion will still be delayed, and it won’t resemble anything that once existed on Earth.
It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that you might never see that person ever again. Never see her smile or the way her hair shone in the morning light.
Loss is dissonance in emotional form. If love plays out in a major key, then loss, its opposite, must occupy the minor. Piano, cello, tam tam, singing bowls, and recordings of near-silent rooms are all a part of the record’s fabric, but the intermittent notes can barely string a melody together, just clunking at irregular intervals, as if shocked and grieving, with no appetite for anything else.
Lowered can not only imitate but present symptoms of grief and longing and despair and loneliness that emerge after the loss of a loved one – be it a relationship, a physical death, or a closing of a friendship – they are all deaths in their own way, all heartbreakers, all endings.
A grey, hulking emptiness and an all-pervading silence is starkly imprinted upon the music. But silence also makes for a greater resonance, and when the music does come in, shaky and distraught, it’s made all the more powerful for the music’s mute nature.
At a time of loss, both inner and outer worlds are left to writhe in turmoil. The world’s dimmer lights are turned down; things become substantially bleaker. The world becomes colourless; colour bleeds out of everything. Existential isolation replaces the comfort of her presence: the new season is in, and it’s drab, grey, and everlasting.
The middle track introduces a long, tired drone, sitting bleary-eyed in the middle of the album to further increase the sense of isolation and a loneliness that ushers in a cold, numbing draught of air which brings on an emotional hypothermia. While there appears to be no escape, you have to adapt and process the change. There’s no alternative but to grind through the period of grief, loss, and dislocation.
If you’re going through hell, keep going.