Review Of “Shade Themes From Kairos,” by Ambarchi, O’Malley, Dunn


You don’t know where they come from or even their given names. Ambarchi, O’Malley, Dunn: an ensemble. They arrive offering access to a seizable breach in time, “kairos,” the right or opportune moment to act. Within this long-sought dimension the trio compose a gradual music made of instruments made of gear, a sound that combusts with notes becoming feedback becoming a new and magnificent intensity. For a guide into this realm you’ve chosen a scrap torn from another mythic and relentlessly musical text:

Turn it on as loud as you can get it. Then get down on the floor and jam your ear as close into the loudspeaker as you can get it and stay there, breathing as lightly as possible, and not moving, and neither eating nor smoking nor drinking. Concentrate everything you can into your hearing and into your body.*

It begins. Godspeed! and indeed you feel that coiling kinetic tension as “That Space Between” opens to a galaxy of unresolved blips and swells and wails, all that swirling noise finally finding a common center of mass in a thudding pagan drum, this rhythm the gravity in a system of sleeting cymbals and drones on top of drones; somewhere in the distance a cage door slams, beckoning forth or locking the only way out, crashing down again and again until another steel door responds, creating a maze of sudden walls and channeling forces, you have no choice but to push forward through waves of guitar there is beauty there is fear there is a gently bending xylophone offering an evanescent grasp of the pastoral before folding back into the immensity of space.

You won’t hear it nicely. If it hurts you, be glad of it. As near as you will ever get, you are inside the music; not only inside it, you are it; your body is no longer your shape and substance, it is the shape and substance of the music.

Guitars and drums lock into the collaborative violence of “Temporal, Eponymous,” there will be blood and there’s no escaping the circular drum loop, the beat careening off the dark boundaries of the vortex and forever spiraling back to the exact moment where it began. Gaseous frequencies flit and degrade while a hydraulic whipcrack gives way to a sidewinding guitar, this is not music this is motion, you’re goaded on toward the cellared bondage of “Circumstances Of Faith,” a terrifying croak through the oubliette depths of the Haxan Cloak. Wandering blind in the creeping dank, both hands extended toward the advancing echoes of cymbal and drum, closer, closer, closer through the mouth and out into the writhing sweat of frenzied ceremony, a manic tabla conjuring furious peals of occult guitar, fully possessed you know not whether you’ve been summoned for exaltation or sacrifice, body and soul committed to the inexorable unknowing.

Is what you hear pretty? or beautiful? or legal? or acceptable in polite or any other society?

Out of that fevered trance you come to amid spare acoustic notes and articulated brushes of percussion, everything amplified you are so small, this space, yet finally “Sometimes” offers the journey’s first pure human voice, a lullaby sung foreign-tongued and serene, the woman dipping strips of cloth into a bowl of cool water and applying each soothing compress to the bruises and burns of your ordeal. You could submit to these gentle ministrations forever except she sings not for you but simply for the task at hand, another will soon take your place and you must resume.

Black clouds of heavy guitar gather to mark the extended close of “Ebony Pagoda”: the question is not whether you’ll make it out alive but whether existence will continue as you know it, the music becoming a tectonic roar of moving plates and geologic drones, some aggregations of sound rising mighty while others cluster and crumble to naught. Strange angels flutter at the outskirts but the turbulent notes keep them at bay, guitar and drums maintaining a center that continues to hold. Many of the fires have gone out but some still burn as you continue forward until there is nothing.

Nothing except the boon that you have been somewhere and are better for it.


*Excerpted from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1939), in which James Agee exhorts his readers to put Beethoven’s Seventh or Schubert’s C-Major Symphony on their phonographs and crank it LOUD.