At this time of year, references to houses take on a more evocative dimension. While it is doubtful that Geneva Skeen intended to dabble in the otherworldly, if ever there was a piece that captured what a haunted home sounds like it is her “The Sonorous House.”
It opens with enough rattles, creeks and muffled sounds to keep your front door trick-or-treater free. A slow building hum of background noise will give your eardrums a pretty decent shake too, depending on the quality of your headphones.
Then, fair warning, a shockwave of electronic noise hits just under four minutes in. Remember Carlo Giustini’s remarkable field recording of an abandoned house called La stanza di fronte? If his experiment had produced anything close to this, it would have sold a million copies.
“Los Angeles Without Palm Trees” is less creepy, and in its own way more musical. The piece features a looping electronic flutter over long synth waves. Its closing three minutes are among the album’s most intense. Imagine a lonely city street on a winter night.
Skeen is in fact out to express a specific set of ideas, as her album notes detail.
“As I’ve tried to understand what is happening now without judgement – a collapse of systems, boundaries and symbols that crumble faster with each forcible attempt to reinstate them – I am finding equal failure in streamlined, singular methodologies for both comprehension and composition,” she writes. “Representation in a world that refuses fact is uncertain and deceptive. … Inside, what we see is not what we hear, what we hear is not what we think, what we think is not what we feel, and so on.
“The dread incited by this precarity is difficult to interpret without announcing failure: the anxiety of watching our own hourglass is palpable and demanding. I feel existence in this moment has required a move away from my own humanity in order to simply live in it, live through it, live with it while refusing to release the idea of environmental recovery. … The sounds on this record embody this sense of mutant consciousness. It is, for me, a representation of a vigorous sprint towards complexity, towards the interdependencies that serve as stop-gaps, towards freaky, slippery, compounded stacks of reality.”
Appropriately, the album’s title piece may be the most complex drone recording we’ve heard this year. There are multiple elements combined here. So many that it’s difficult to identify them all. I hear voices, strings and synths, at least. The sum of all these parts is dense and surprisingly emotional. Skeen has struck a chord that – if you give in to it – will transport you.
Toward the end of the piece, she begins to pull those various elements apart. This deconstruction adds even greater dimension to the album’s central work.
“Flutter in Place” is another lengthy, impressive effort. It closes the album at a glacial pace. Deeply resonant, with multiple layers, it is an appropriately impressive ending to a great recording.