It’s felt. When the foundation for sound, and its organized form we call music, emerges from a duo, we are here, in the double, compelled to ask questions. The question of stilling oneself to feel it. It’s felt in the music.
I’ve always been interested in what nonlyrical music can say, what it can do. How to do things with words, JL Austin ponders, his question reverberating still. But words, like music, are made from sound. So the refraction of the question: How to do things with the sound of music? What can music, in its variance, with or without lyrical content, performed by the double, the duo, do to us, do for us, and how does it feel, what does it mean? How can we live with music, with sound? Whatever the music does, whatever sound compels, is because of relation.
This is what I heard in Aperture Duo’s offering to us, in their self titled album. I heard and felt relation between, a tug and pull in toward its centrifugal, centripetal call and response, antiphony and reply.
Water and Power carries the relation, a shadowed history felt in the music. Black folks migrated from Louisiana to California--to places like Los Angeles--beginning in 1927 with a flood. This movement between places, between spaces, prompted by an environmental crisis marks the sound. Because this song feels like an inverse reply, composed in 2016 by Noah Meites during a protracted drought in Los Angeles, another crisis of the ecological. Infusing sounds of Zydeco into the composition, referencing African American musician Bebe Carriere’s “Blue Runner,” the song itself can be considered to be what the relationship of movement and migration--produced by the modern philosophical degradation of the earth--sounds like.
That it sounds beautiful, that it is moving, does not make the force of its critique any less impactful. This, the impactfulness of its beauty and move, is what makes its force most alive. The words “overflowing” sung flow out, beyond the border of the instrumental, lyrical content saying what the violin and viola said, they say together, their saying enunciated through linking the flesh to the instrumental to the ecological.
The movement between Louisiana and California, the movement between violin and viola, the movement between instrumentalists and voice, each a drawing in, a drawing toward. Each, in other words, is about proximity, whether nearness or farness.
And this desire for proximity as a concept to think about, to sound out with and reply, is felt across the album.
Friction is its own kind of felt proximity, tension made by rubs and glides and slides, surfaces roughed up and over, hewn and splayed. And environmental crises that compel or force migration we might consider to be friction. Clara Iannotta’s Limun is a song about how tension feels, what it sounds like. Friction felt in chest, in pit of the flesh. Because friction fundamentally names relation that emerges from resistance at a point of convergence, a place and space of meeting. Limun sounds like friction, an attempt to work in and through and out how to be, what relationship will manifest, at the meeting house of sound.
But sound is heard, is felt, only because friction makes such vibration of soundwaves possible. Sometimes it sounds sweet, like union and free. Sometimes soft and barely there, the sound, you have to listen in and into it. Sometimes sounds of violin and viola strike, the sensual feel of hardness.
Blue is not hard.
And I have been obsessing over it, the color, the synesthetic feel it gives me. I feel and sense it in Friedrich Hölderin’s poem, “In Lovely Blue.” for some time, in the very beginning:
In lovely blue blooms the steeple blossoms
With its metal roof. Around which
Drift swallows cries around which
Lies most loving blue . . .
Derek Tywoniuk’s Bluets movements give me another occasion to return to the color, to the movement in Hölderin, to what the visual shade and sonic atmosphere of the relationship between viola and violin can be. A synesthetic encounter, Bluets is a dance and play of the between. Whereas Bluets #75 has the feel of length and stretch and slowness, intention and plea-- a prayer, a meditation--sensed between the duo, their antiphonal movement that echoes and stretches and lengthens, Bluets #136-139 has the feel and register of being on the run, the pace rapid and sharp, the breaths and breathing short, labored, the violin’s and viola’s strokes and strikes truncated, cut, augmented. The various movements in Bluets' texture, perhaps even play with and in and through, friction as the driving thought. How does blue rub and grind and halt?
To halt, to hold still. hold still while the world turns is Andrew Tholl’s attempt to compose between movement and its echoed double, stillness. Though, yet and still, stillness is movement at another velocity, another pace, movement that shares relation to turning and tuning. Stillness is aspiration but not achievable for the practices of music.
So perhaps a question of character and person: who could hold still? So perhaps a question of meaning: what could hold still? And how is this relation between holding, stilling and turning one of overflow and friction and blue? Most of the composition being held, holding closely, to A, D, G, the surprise and delight of the rupture to E, to C towards the end. The turning of the bows on the three strings allows stilling to be registered, a stilling that is not, but can be occasioned as sensed and felt because of movement. An absent presence.
Presence. Absence. The condition of immigration, the condition of forced movement and displacement, the severing of one from communities of care and love and tenderness and the familiar. Carolyn Chen’s My Loves Are In America bears the weight and texture, the grief and sound, of our current political and economic violence against undocumented people in the United States, the separating of families at the southern border that attempt to arrive from countries in South America, from Haiti, from Jamaica; the separating of families, the refusal of entry at northern borders for people attempting entry from countries in Africa, from Canada. And the justification for such severing and splitting told to be ethics, the law.
Beginning with notes that bend and glide, I register the bending, the gliding, as a kind of sadness, a heartbreak of having known and familiar and the emotional difficulty and emptiness that issues forth from being torn apart. But the process of such tearing and severing is not immediate and instantaneous, it happens in slow movements, it is a process, it happens as policy procedure, it happens as following the letter of the law, it happens by vice presidents telling people uprooted from their own familiar do not come here, do not come here. That the United States continually descends into the dregs of the underworld to more forcefully and with intensity practice racial and nationalist violence is matched in the song by the continual descents the violin and viola make.
This is a moving album, an album about motion, migration, flight and how it also requires a kind of movement of stillness, of staidness. Let its sound come to you, let them happen in and through you, and be changed by the experience.