December 9, 2009

How is it done? That’s the main question. Tone generators, I hear, with close attention to acoustics. Just typing those words is kind of thrilling – these sparse black letters on a white screen convey the same kind of dryness you get with Eleh. That really is all there is.

No reverb. No compression, I imagine. I’ve been impressed with the fact that, like Kevin Drumm, there’s very little chorus in the tones, or specifically with Eleh, usually no chorus at all, until a sudden fat bit of phase comes in and it’s like being hit with a laser beam.

Much of the modulation seems to be simply of amplitude – presence/absence, not tone, not melody. It seems to directly access the question of ontology; how much of this stuff is there? What is there? Like sifting atoms.

But I want to discuss what Eleh is not, at least for me. Much of the music is dedicated to masters of minimalism/duration/drone such as Pauline Oliveros. Explorers of duration and variation, and the cumulative effective these can qualities can have, psychologically and spiritually. That particular nexus of music trades in, at least partly, in variation for duration, so that change is gradual, and one explores nuance in that time. Imagine a chart: duration on the X axis extends to the horizon, indeed that’s part of the point, that you get lost, you forget your start and end points. Movement can be extremely gradual, and still be successful, because there’s no demand for conciseness, except on a micro-scale. The object doesn’t need to be considered as self contained, so much as a continuum. While there is slow change over the medium term, there’s generally constant small level change – inevitable in acoustic instruments, perhaps.

With Eleh, there is a very strong feeling of stasis. Does this feeling occur with many minimalists? Phill Niblock, perhaps, but not La Monte Young. It’s very hard to achieve the same kind of architectural feel with acoustic instruments that Eleh achieves with electronic ones. It is a feeling of…. being locked in, embraced, but trapped, still. Happily trapped. The feeling that only technology can create (see also guitar distortion).