far away and hidden in the lands beneath no moon,
in gorges below pinnacles upon which dwell the dead,
a cavern, overshadowed by encircling mountains, gapes
beneath a narrow vault across whose dark the stars are sped.
from deep down in its cave there comes a sinister refrain
that resonates the barren, shadowed valleys with its call
and fills the night with wailing shrieks that from the blackness rise
to travel through the mountains, echoing from wall to wall.
beyond the cavern lies the labyrinth of endless ways,
within it there is neither south nor north nor west nor east;
its inmost chamber holds a massive hill of metal shards
upon whose summit sits the thing that’s neither god nor beast.
in shape unformed as beast or god, it neither sleeps nor breathes,
wherever sentient life has dwelt it’s borne a different name,
it is the one that tears all worlds apart when it arrives
on that last day when everything is treated all the same.
This short text, ‘Apeirozoan’, comes from a mysterious volume of poems published in 2016 titled The Spiral Consilience, written by a pseudonymous author. i don’t know whether or not Canadian composer James Hamilton had it in mind when creating his magnum opus, also titled (all caps) APEIROZOAN, but as this book is the one and only reference to that word on the entire internet, a connection seems extremely likely. (All the more so as the accompanying notes include a quotation, “Die, and never stop dying, until you are no longer dead.” which comes from a different book from the same publisher, gnOme.) The word is a neologism, its meaning arising from conjoined references to infinity or boundlessness (apeiro-) and the classification of lifeforms (-zoan); in this adjectival form, it seems to indicate creatures of a transcendent or supernal quality, in this context “the thing that’s neither god nor beast … that tears all worlds apart”.
As it happens, i’ve already expended more words in that opening paragraph than Hamilton provides to accompany this album. That’s not a problem in the slightest, though it suggests his intentions aspire to evocation rather than to a more specific kind of musical description. The seven sections of APEIROZOAN bear similarly pithy, evocative titles: ‘Contrafactum Approacher’, ‘Monument’, ‘Gyre’, ‘Expanse’, ‘Gravity Well’, ‘Scourge Field’, and ‘The Thousand Pointed Star’. While most of those are interpretatively open, it’s worth noting that The Spiral Consilience also includes a poem titled ‘Approacher’ (featuring another, even more terrifying, apeirozoan being), and the references to a gravity well and a star (and possibly expanse) perhaps suggest something astronomical. Then there are considerations of structure and duration: the seven sections are arranged symmetrically on five discs (1, 2+3, 4, 5+6, 7) that each last precisely 66’36”. Hints, suggestions and clues everywhere, yet while it’s fun to play detective when exploring music that aligns itself with elements of mystery and even obscurantism (not surprising for a composer who has previously used multiple noms de guerre), it’s arguably more practical simply to acknowledge and assimilate these possibilities of meaning and allow them to percolate and permeate the listening experience as they will.
Apropos: this is not just any ordinary listening experience. i’ve mentioned literary reference points, but from a sonic perspective APEIROZOAN primarily brings to mind the work of Zbigniew Karkowski, Roland Kayn and The Hafler Trio, in addition to some of the larger-scale music of Robert Rich, JLIAT, Kenneth Kirschner and Pan Sonic (especially ‘Säteily’). In other words, massive abstract sound sculptures that take their time in the presentation and development of their materials and ideas, encompassing extremes of delicacy and enormity. Hamilton amusingly suggests the preferred way to listen: “Play at high volume in a quiet space with no visual distractions.” Is there any other way to properly listen? In all seriousness, though, in terms of volume it makes absolute sense to listen to APEIROZOAN as loudly as you dare, partly to feel the full force of the work’s immensity, but also to fully appreciate its huge dynamic range and perceive the intricacies playing out (at both extremes) that could otherwise be missed.
Considering both the time scale and the behaviour of APEIROZOAN, it’s impossible not to regard the work as having some connection to the world of ambient. It would be pushing it to describe it as ‘ambient music’ per se, though it nonetheless exhibits the “ignoresting” dualism so quintessential to that genre, with regard to both individual sections and to the work as a whole. ‘Gyre’ and ‘The Thousand Pointed Star’, in particular, are much more behaviourally static than everything else. ‘Gyre’ is principally characterised by the presence of deep rumble, against which a complex chord slowly emerges before these two elements gradually die back to reveal a softer chord that may or may not have been present throughout the preceding half hour. ‘The Thousand Pointed Star’ slowly pieces together a wall of sound – in the process moving from pitch to noise and expanding from mid-range frequencies to a massive saturation – that undergoes a number of apparent surges (some, i think, imaginary) before gradually dissipating until only crackling vestiges of sound remain. From an ambient perspective, their minimal range of actions can easily be thought of as “ignorable” (which is, of course, not at all to suggest the music is uninteresting), and as such this forms a contrast with the rest of the work, which is anything but.
The other four sections cannot in any meaningful way be so succinctly summarised. They are extensive, immersive soundscapes characterised by a careful, sculptural approach to the juxtaposition and development of their limited palette of sounds. To call it “limited” is to some extent erroneous, as the sources for Hamilton’s sounds come from, among other things, a Hammond organ, amplifiers, analogue filters and string resonators. Indeed, the organ is seemingly a pivotal presence: Hamilton describes APEIROZOAN as “the latest instalment in a series of works for organ” as well as being “as far as I can tell, my last work for organ”. Yet pretty much none of those sources, including the organ, are particularly identifiable, transformed and concentrated here into a collection of elemental sonic forces corresponding to a myriad colours of noise and harmony. That being said, nothing about APEIROZOAN sounds ‘raw’; it’s clear that every single sound we’re hearing is the product of a process that has led to that form.
The extremely slow approach Hamilton takes in these pieces induces a rapt kind of listening, continually listening out for changes and developments in a soundworld that, for all its glaciality, never sounds remotely static, always in some state of flux. Sometimes there’s the sense of moving through an environment; ‘Expanse’, in particular, suggests this, its diverse array of elements hovering in place as we gradually pass them by. Elsewhere they’re filling our field of vision in an all-enclosing panoply of adjacent, interpenetrating, evolving shapes and strands of matter that sing, fizz, buzz, throb and scour. Frequently they become polarised, Hamilton pushing everything to the outer limits of register, causing the room to violently judder while piercing high tones threaten to bore through our skull.
i mentioned the presence of possibly imaginary surges, and this is a feature of APEIROZOAN as a whole. In a host of different registral, timbral and dynamic contexts, Hamilton gives the impression of the music pushing forward, or outward, i.e. towards us, the listener. Very often this impression becomes uncanny due to the fact that this process of pushing seems to continue without actually getting anywhere, in a kind of Shepard tone-like illusory process of eternal crescendo. At times this is ostensibly the only ‘change’ taking place, and it can feel ominously intimidating, particularly when it seems as if the music couldn’t possibly get any louder.
It’s only reasonable to note that a work lasting five-and-a-half hours is going to be a daunting prospect for many listeners. To an extent i think this is an entirely appropriate, even essential, part of engaging with APEIROZOAN. It’s not just another piece of music, not just another album; the title hints at infinity and to enter into Hamilton’s sonic universe is to become immersed – and, perhaps, lost – in a musical infinitude. Without wishing to sound frivolous, i’m reminded of Douglas Adams’ ‘Total Perspective Vortex‘, a machine that reveals the disparity of scale between the entire universe and the individual viewer, revealing them as “an invisible dot on an invisible dot, infinitely small” (a revelation usually leading to their immediate demise). Universes should make us feel small, and listening to APEIROZOAN i’ve often felt a similarly infinite / infinitesimal sense of scale. This is entirely as it should be, and the effect is simultaneously overwhelming. terrifying and glorious.
Released by The Keraunograph Organisation (which may well be Hamilton’s own label), APEIROZOAN comes in a beautiful black box, the cover of which continues the element of mystery, laying out the title APEIROZOAN in a manner akin to the Sator Square. Contained within are the five CDs in black wallets, all adorned with nothing more than the titles of the sections, and a small booklet with credits that opens out to show a mysterious series of red lights (again, possibly having an astronomical connection). The whole approach to design, presentation and typography is gorgeous, redolent of the lavish, lovingly-created Hafler Trio releases put out by Phonometrography in the early 2000s.
The box set can be ordered from the Keraunograph website. This is the only way to obtain APEIROZOAN, there are no digital options and no preview excerpts online. Perhaps that only compounds a daunting prospect with an additional element of risk, but take my word for it, it’s a risk well worth taking. Infinity awaits you.