We tend to associate ambient music with pleasant sounds. It’s an artificial distinction of course. Many of the genre’s most creative works – particularly in recent years – are packed with grainy, abrasive elements that on their own can be quite difficult to listen to. Placed in the right context though, they often provide welcome complexity to a composition.
It’s an idea that Norwegian composer/electronic music producer/DJ Benjamin Finger has taken to heart. His latest offers up eight gritty electronic pieces that work as both eccentric background music and detail-rich sound art. How you choose to consume them is up to you.
The album opens with “Halogen flux,” a title very much in keeping with the entire disc. Its synth lines are buried in static and surface noise for most of the track. The effect is both absorbing and disquieting.
“Anxiety blues” is next, featuring more of the same fuzziness. Finger pairs distorted electronics with a crisp, intermittent electronic beat and a sample of (presumably) him blowing into a microphone. The contrasts are sharp.
The strangest piece on Scale of Blindness is “If memory preserves.” A spoken word recording tells the story of D.B. Cooper, perpetrator of the “only major unsolved hijacking” case in U.S. history. Despite the speaker’s obvious enthusiasm for the story’s quirky details (it’s reported that Cooper escaped from the plane by parachute), the tale goes nowhere. Slowly. It’s annoyingly pointless.
Layered over a heavily distorted three-note loop and various electronic beeps and toots, the piece serves as a kind of aimless centrepiece to the album. It lends a sense of bewilderment to the project that will stay with you like a hook-heavy pop song.
The album closes with its longest piece, “Vanishing faces.” More contrast here, but of a different kind. The piece is pure, relaxed ambience – all open spaces and echoing notes. But those notes feel so tightly wound that they thicken the air with tension.
Finger often finds ways to challenge his listeners. Scale of Blindness is worth the effort.