Two companion LPs from Janek Schaefer find this most mercurial of composers expanding upon some of his more exploratory audio ideas across four sides of vinyl (or nine tracks in digital form).“White Lights of Divine Darkness” is a suitably spiritual opener to Unfolding Luxury Beyond the City of Dreams, a piece recorded for Sir John Tavener on the day he died, and the mood of reflective recursion continues into “Unfolding Honey”, an hypnotic swirl of shimmering, silky feedback and subtly-shifting crackling echoes recorded to accompany an exhibition of Japanese fashion in London. The segue into “Luxury” is almost imperceptible, with its drift into angelic drones, as is the elevation into the clouds and spattering of raindrops recorded from a helium balloon while a Carpenters piano loop unravels and accumulates in “Skyline Ascendant”.
Creating a sense of time and place – though not necessarily those which relate precisely to when and where the sounds were recorded – is something which Schaefer has always done so well, making new environments from the layered sounds of others, whether his own recordings or those encountered by chance. By the end of side A, the mood has become so sonorous and relaxed that it’s a wonder if the wool and clouds have not been gathered into daydreams so languorous as to engender a sense of no-mind in the listener. This blanket of gentle, looping near-melancholy, almost-blissout continues on the next side, the hiss and crackle of a John Dankworth and Cleo Laine LP is transformed into a woozy mist of denatured, time-bent music on “Coda” in suitably heavenly memory of the passing of the former.Likewise, he uses a twin-arm turntable alongside Mark Robinson‘s live recordings to make the multiple piano trills of “City of Dreams” roll out like Florian Fricke‘s most elegiac of compositions as Popol Vuh. The Carpenters make a return appearance for Unfolding Luxury beyond the City of Dreams‘ final track, continuing Schaefer’s method of melding sampled piano loops and environmental recordings (in this case in a mostly deserted Grand Central Station in New York at the end of the day) with the sounds of the space – and the people moving through it – equally important to the resulting whole. The LP closes on the reverberant clack of shoe heels and the clank of bottles being collected for disposal revolving through the ambling piano; and the last train is called with what Schaefer manages to make seem like a hint of sadness at its departure.
The often overwhelming sense of dystopian weight pressing down on the reader which is the nub of JG Ballard‘s bleak fictions (and autobiographical observations) of the limits of human civilisation is perhaps not stated so baldly on both parts of Inner Space Memorial in Wonderland. Its bleak, Hobbesian presence can be felt, however, in the nagging concern that the forward motion of the music, like Ballard’s stories, has an end-point of not altogether favourable aspect.The first side of the LP comprises sounds recorded using Schaefer’s Inner Space Memorial to Ballard at the Bluecoat theatre in Liverpool. Two crackly speaker cones playing inwards to their own cabinets create a susurrus of repeating chordal drones, Ballard’s voice passing through like a radio station picked up in passing on a motorway journey. The effect of the rise and fall of accumulating waves of sound is suitably traffic-like, a theme which is accentuated by listening to this album while travelling on some form of transport at speed, preferably in a bleak, crowded semi-urban environment with convenient vistas of windfarms occasionally marching across the landscape from the near to far distance, at sunrise for preference.
It might be difficult to do so with the vinyl edition, but travel record players doubtless make a great gift for the audiophile who has everything, and would be a suitably hyper-post-modernist way to listen to side B of Inner Space Memorial in Wonderland, the final section of Schaefer’s Asleep at the Wheel… exhibition. Road traffic recorded from a footbridge over the M3 motorway near Ballard’s home (next to which the six-lane road was built while he lived there) underpins the recursive, nagging tones of “Wonderland”. The ever-present hum and swoosh of tyres on tarmac and the muted throb of engines combines with the music, swelling together into a slow crescendo which hints sombrely at some form of crash or entropic decay — automotive or cultural — yet to come. Once again Ballard interjects, darkly observing with the voice of brutal experience, “people will do anything … will believe anything, to survive”.