One of the more unusual items to have arrived at my door recently is Double Landscape, by Dutch “visual artist with a preference for sound” Jeroen Diepenmaat. It’s unusual insofar as it comes in the form of a small plastic wallet containing a small business card CDr – which contains just a single track, lasting just a few minutes – together with a fold-out inlay card with drawings of cassette-like images and a download code. It would have been a lot of work to go to for just a few minutes of music, and indeed the download reveals the actual entirety of the album: 84 tracks (the CDr containing just one of them) lasting a little over five hours. That’s a lot of music, but it doesn’t take long to realise that there’s a theme at play here, one that draws connections with both the Roland Kayn box set i reviewed earlier this week as well as the examples of ‘steady state’ music discussed recently.
The Kayn connection is twofold. First, each of the 84 movements is a paradigm of the whole; the way each one behaves is, essentially identical, though the specific details are unique. Second, the range of materials used is relatively small, establishing a strong relationship between the different pieces, which are, in essence, sonic siblings. More on this in a moment. The ‘steady state’ connection is to do with this behavioural commonality, involving pairs of cycling loops. These loops are derived from a recording of Diepenmaat playing piano; this was split into seven tape loops, inserted into physical cassettes, which were then combined in pairs. Double Landscape is the product of the various possible combinations of these pairs. The cycling process of these loops quickly establishes in each piece a steady state, one that – unlike most of the examples discussed previously – has a distinct ambient quality, the resultant musical texture resulting from the coincidental ways in which the details of each loop impinge against each other. Both the serendipity of the process and the physicality of the medium are important to Diepenmaat, as he explains:
I like coincidence, so I made the rules to let the coincidence work. Besides the combinations, due to small differences in tape length the sounds move towards/apart from each other. Also tape hiss and the wear of the tape is audible in some of the tracks. I like it when it is alive like that.
The process and its results bring to mind various other loop-based tape works, above all Asher Tuil’s 2009 Miniatures. If it lacks the enormous emotional baggage that Tuil’s album possesses, i think that’s to do with the more hands-off approach Diepenmaat has taken, simply placing loops in combination and setting them off. But this isn’t a negative criticism of Double Landscape; Tuil clearly set out to create something emotionally charged, and that’s not what’s going on here. But more importantly, the emotional baggage on a work like Miniatures is derived from the hauntological evocations and allusions it makes, and Double Landscape at times does the same thing. It’s more subtle and understated (coincidental?) yet when it occurs it’s unmistakable, just one example being the combination 2B+3A, due to the wistful, brooding collection of languid, low register chords it emphasises in conjunction with very audible tape wobble.
Yet it has its own, very different, kind of baggage too. Since the entirety of Double Landscape is created from a small collection of quite short loops, the more one listens, the more echoes and memories of its earlier music appear, self-contained reference points as the basis for its own internal hauntology. These echoes are, of course, only partial, as the specific pairing of elements has not been heard before, casting new light on them and enabling them to speak in new ways. i said before it had a distinct ambient quality, and it’s this recurring of elements, and the way it plays on our half-recognition of them (it’s not always immediately clear whether in fact it’s just something similar, rather than a direct recurrence) that keeps one’s interest coming back to what might otherwise be quite ignorable loops. Not only does it strike a really nice liminal balance – such a difficult thing to do well – it establishes an environment where the music literally becomes more engaging, more involving, the longer you listen to it. It arguably only starts to make proper sense in that bigger, 84-piece context; the specific order doesn’t particularly matter, but the quantity does. As the minutes and then the hours pass, the connections become stronger, yet one’s understanding of what’s already been heard – or, more specifically, what one remembers has been heard – is continually called into question. An epic fashioned from the tiniest and simplest of musical building blocks, it’s a fascinating and engrossing experience.
Double Landscape is available from Jeroen Diepenmaat’s Bandcamp site, and it can be streamed below.