I’ve written in the past about how, all these years after John Cage’s “4’33”,” the most radical idea in music continues to be the complete lack of it. Quiet music can be equally powerful.
File Thembi Soddell’s new five-piece disc Love Songs under the latter category. The Australian sound artist and electroacoustic composer has produced a uniquely difficult disc that features quiet, slow builds as a defining element.
Soddell’s website describes the focus of her work as “artistic representations of lived experience of trauma, emotional distress and mental illness.” Her goal: “Affect, drama, perceptual disturbance and meditative experience through intense encounters with sound.”
On Love Songs, that intensity arises from both the aforementioned builds and a number of short, sharp changes between silence or near-silence and frightening noise.
We start with “Object (Im) Permanence.” At a normal listening volume, you will not hear much of anything until a good 30 seconds into the piece. Something close to full volume isn’t reached until after the three-minute mark. Bold choices for any piece, let alone one that serves as track one. What follows is an electronic onslaught that would’ve impressed Lou Reed.
Next is “Erasure.” Again, the music creeps up on you slowly here. So slowly that I feel obligated to warn you of the machine-gun like rattle at the two-and-a-half-minute mark. It’s a strong artistic choice, one that might well knock you off your chair. That’s followed by a similarly slow build in reverse.
By the time “Repetition Compulsion” opens, you’re probably either utterly disoriented or not paying attention.
None of this is to make light of Soddell’s work. Quite the opposite. The sounds she builds are an awe-inspiring mix of electronics, noise and screaming vocals. The density is close to overwhelming. Her penchant for hard starts and stops only adds to the tension. If you’re comfortable with music that makes you uncomfortable, she is one to watch.