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B.J. Nilsen: "The Invisible City"

img  Tobias

The first thing you'll hear is an insisting and steadily humming drone rising from the void, soon joined by growing clouds of higher-pitched moving tones. The drone remains immobile for ten minutes, continually creating natural overtone harmonics—you're left in the dark about whether these are actually inside the music or tinnitus-related—reproducing some kind of Doppler-effect for the pleasure of your ears. Welcome to 'Gravity Station', the first disconcerting track of BJ Nilsen's new album. This could be the music of a rusty carousel rotating faraway in a hidden spooky world. Sturdy things finally bustle about the fixed tone and make it disappear, letting abstract bricks of dark sound knock together loudly with electric waves in the background. Now, you are jacked in.

The second half ot the album is way more relaxed yet occasionally pretty eerie. It often sounds like a still life—but even the layers of the most quiet track here will entwine each other, or the introduction of a bizarre sample will suddenly bend your mind to follow another path. Everything flows, especially when an organ unfold its Terry Riley-like texture. You listen to the music here as you would process some half-developed photographic paper, slowly showing moving forms, some iridescent and lazy, some other glitchy and alert. Speaking of photography, sometimes you wish you could have paid attention to Jon Wozencroft's cover photograph only after listening to the music. How much does the artwork condition the listener to react to the recording accordingly? How much of this review is involuntarily inspired from the picture of a train station, seen at night from above as a vector of light, as an airstrip? No matter how gorgeous and evocative Touch's design is, I must confess that I often tried to imagine what kind of effects an unexpected cover, for instance with people on it (a rare thing at Touch as far as I am aware), might cause. 

Throughout the album, BJ Nilsen shapes noises chosen for their power to drive you further through the 'Invisible City', which is not the safest place on... whatever planet we are on. Unsurprisingly, field recordings are the raw material here, treated electronically with the delicate know-how of a goldsmith manipulating the king of metals. The material list in the liner notes, partly a bestiary, reveals trade secrets: sounds of flying insects, birds and wing flaps, or of a 'cat clibing up door' are sampled on some loops, producing rhythm or becoming musical patterns. But that city is no animal/vegetal paradise at all, most of the time the samples are part of  larger technological designs, soundscapes from outer space or under sea level. Alongside the field recordings, you may recognize Hildur Gudnadottir's viola, vintage synthesizers, a guitar, a piano, a 'virtual Hammond organ' and many other instruments. You can hear footsteps on snow and squawking birds, humming machines and transmission signals, even the digitalized scream of a wild beast (in fact an 'amplified chair dragged across floor'). Is it a concept album about the cohabitation of creatures of nature and man-made technology?

The way these field recordings are integrated in a globally non-human atmosphere touches on mastery, but I don't think there is a unified concept at all. The album is rather similar to a portmanteau film containing sketches of various parts of the unmapped city. Listen carefully and don't let the appearance fool you, the album seems to whisper, 'natural' and 'artificial' are just words invented to make you naively believe in such an easy duality: a city is as natural and artificial as a hive.

By Antoine Richard

You can find more articles by Antoine Richard on his excellent blog, Happily the Future.

Homepage: BJ Nilsen
Homepage: Touch

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