Every now and again we all feel a small thudding inside us. Perhaps in the crease of an elbow, or a leg fallen asleep, or a hand placed purposely upon our chest. There’s a careful rhythm to this thudding, but also an arrhythmia—a sharp jump and fall, a fracturing and return—when we encounter another body or grow excited or quieter still. It’s a felt mathematics of sorts—hard to prove and still, inescapable.
To listen to Marcel Zaes’s Pulsations is much like riding this thudding. Like finding that constant groove and submitting to its complications. A single sound passed back and forth through a circuit—part-digital, part-analog—splinters the sound into countless parts. These sounds seem as though they are new arrivals, when in fact they are navels of each other—born and birthing at once. Pulsations works within this artificial anatomy to produce an ever-evolving palette of sound and noise. Sustained digital sine tones are sent through “trash speakers” (speakers that are only membrane, devoid of external body) that struggle to cope with the vibrations they receive. In their uncontrollable frenzy, these speakers transform the original digital tones into more complex distortions. Contact microphones pick up this chaotic noise and send it to a computer, where Zaes applies an algorithm, based on Brian House’s BRAID.live, that fragments the sound with imperfections. As the algorithm’s interventions become more and more unpredictable with each loop, Pulsations’ recurring rhythm structure devolves from pulse to anarchy.
Side A: Order lays out a deep, rumbling architecture interrupted periodically by quick half-noises. Scratches. Pulses. Beats. Hesitancies. This assortment of sounds, placed over time, begins to feel like a sequence. What is inherently imperfect begins to feel precise. And we find home in it.
Our bones take to this new momentum, and soon, we forget that it is even there. We wander with the interjections of higher frequencies. Of uncomfortable dins. Sounds that had grown familiar dissolve into their many pixels and play back upon each other. The world seems immense. The body, lost. And we must voyage onward without a map. Coarser terrain. Disjunctive thoughts. Beauty in miniature apolcalypses.
It no longer matters where we are headed. We are no longer keeping count. Who knows where we have come or how we got here. Cohesion is dissipating. Though, of course, it is only growing into its origins; we are not journeying onwards, we realise, but have returned to, or maybe have always been with, the thudding with which it all began.
Side B: Disorder rises from the disintegration that Side A only feigned. The thudding behind this layered sound-world remains, but more quietly. Uncomfortable noises enter and persist, arranged and rearranged into unexpected departures. The air thickens. Distortions lengthen. Time draws out into ugliness. It seems as if there is nowhere to journey. And the body stops trying to travel. Lets itself be assaulted by mechanical afflictions. Also, softer, though never tender, echoes of past noise.
In a more orderly place, thoughts might have meandered. Here, they lose clarity. Wither. Bones become porous—stones absorbing a haunting around them. We cannot find the strictures that once helped make sense, if not meaning. It is now comforting to surrender to turmoil. To let the trash become the sublime. Accept that chaos could be a hopeful future. Or maybe just accept chaos for the starkness it can be—residue, static, trumpeting that signals nothing.
There are distances between sounds, and more distance between their vibrating and our skeletons—the in-between makes the resonance. Distances extend in disorder. Order tries to close them in. It’s a perpetual tug-of-war between the intimate and the inexplicable. In that oscillation, we are left with some version of our own thudding and also its absence.
—Poorna Swami (2018)
released September 1, 2018
All music composed by Marcel Zaes at Brown University, Providence. The compositions are based on the software Braid.Live by Brian House. Recorded and mixed by Marcel Zaes at Block K, South Extension II, New Delhi 2018. The studio residency in New Delhi was made possible by Pro Helvetia, Swiss Arts Council.
Mastered by Willy Strehler at Klangdach, Guntershausen 2018
Produced by Martin Lorenz