Jacob Kirkegaard, ‘5 Pieces’
When it comes to modern field recordings and processed, situational drone music, you’d be hard pressed to find a more apt or agile producer than Jacob Kirkegaard. The Danish sound artist, currently based in Berlin, has issued work after work of dark and weighted meditation on a number of grimly beautiful concepts. For example, Four Rooms, issued in 2006 by Touch, is Kirkegaard’s “breakout” record in many respects, perfectly capturing the producer’s talent for focusing a minimal but expansive rumination on massive themes. In the case of Four Rooms, Kirkegaard set up a series of recorders and playback systems to capture the hollowed-out desolation of “four abandoned spaces inside the Zone of Exclusion in Chernobyl,” thus highlighting the “sonic experience of time, absence, and change — in an area haunted by an invisible and inaudible danger, amidst the slowly decaying remains of human civilization” according to the label. Since his earliest works, Kirkegaard has ventured outside of so called “non music” and into modern classical (Conversion, 2013) and physical, bodily experiments (Labyrinthitis, 2008).
The latest chapter in Kirkegaard’s narrative comes with 5 Pieces, a stunning, three-tape boxed-set issued by the austere noiseniks of Posh Isolation. Gathering five previously unreleased works ranging from 2006 to 2014, the set provides several hours of captivating experimentation presented in a minimal, white-on-black package, complete with extensive liner notes explaining some back story, recording information, and other tidbits of information associated with the work. Each recording finds Kirkegaard mining peculiar aural settings for his studies, from the depths of the Hudson River’s murky waters in the New York Harbor Estuary to iron fences along the Rhine around Cologne, Germany.
The first of the five pieces brings “Æsturarium,” in which Kirkegaard sources the Hudson River for dingy, aquatic diagetics. Specifically recorded at the New York Harbor Estuary, a “transition area where the tides, waves and salty water of the ocean mix with the flow of fresh water and sediment from the river,” the piece effectively sets you in a sturdy, microscopic vessel to get a zoomed-in view of the various physical elements of the sub-aquatic surroundings. Each grain of sand and anonymous granule of floating flotsam and jetsam adds the subtlest amount of character. Movement is both violently kinetic and powerlessly slow, adding the the muted sense of chaos underneath the choppy waves. At times almost entirely silent while at other times buried in a layer of foggy noise, the piece is the perfect primer to Kirkegaard’s M.O. and a fitting beginning to the whole boxed-set.
Next up is “Iron Wind,” a thirty-minute drift of eerie sound riddled with rust and decayed metal, culled from the previously mentioned fences in Cologne. More specifically, “the flowing river, the wind in the air and the large passing tugboats [that] vibrate the fences and case them to produce tones.” Originally composed for WDR – Studio Acoustic Art” in 2006, “Iron Wind” plays out like a doomed, protracted exploration of an aeolian harp. Where the stringed instrument played by wind blowing across its strings performed affirmative, inspiring sounds, the faded metal and slow, drifting machinery in the water create ominous, tragic tones for the sullen. Ghosts of sound and distant motion divine their way through the guardrails as conductors. Over time, physical clatter meanders its way into the picture, occupying the haunted tones with light but destructive clangs and ricocheted sound. Distant, siren-like tones chime in with an immense sense of weight and size, overburdening the senses with surprising ease.
“Déjà Vu” leads the second cassette in a similar vein as Four Rooms, setting up microphones and speakers in eight empty broadcasting studios of Deutschlandradio and orchestrating a “circular chain reaction” wherein the ambient sound in Studio 1 to play through the speakers of Studio 2, which is then played and recorded in Studio 3, which is then played and recorded in Studio 4, continuing the line through Studio 8, only to be replayed back into Studio 1. Micro-tones morph into massive, earth-shaking waves of pure, tonal study as each room reveals its own personality. Drifting from elegiac highs to wrought, pitiless lows, Kirkegaard shows his talent for creating something great out of something incredibly, unassumingly simple.
Jumping over to the flip brings “Fool’s Fire” and a half-hour traipse through more geological, elemental sounds. Created by “attaching an electrified needle to the crystals of a negative/positive charge,” thus creating “isolated charged spots” wherein “atoms jumped across the barriers and made the crystals receptive to radio waves,” then picked up by the needle, the piece is slow and quiet drift textured with gritty static. But rather than resembling a harsh noise record turned with the volume turned almost completely down, “Fool’s Fire” ebbs and flows in gradual movements that expose a disarmingly multi-faceted recording. Quiet storms of noise remain afar, distant just enough to raise alarm without destroying or maiming the scenery.
The final tape in the set brings the hour-long reverie of “Under Bjerget,” broken out into equal parts on the A- and B-sides. Sourcing Carlberg’s main factory in the center of Copenhagen shortly before being shut down, Kirkegaard mic’ed the basement of the 150-year-old building to record “the vibrations of its many tubes and kettles.” The vaporous transmissions lose sense of direction, origin, and pace, blurring into an amorphous blur of metallic drones that are both warm and frozen. Steam and other aqueous ephemera form an aural smog that permeates the dingy room, flowing around pipes and filling vacant vents alike. Phasing sets of chugging, lightly shuffling feedback saunters from channel to channel as dim and dulled serrations of feedback bounce from wall to ceiling to wall to floor and back again, trailing down errant corridors until returning with new, eroded facets. While the tape document of the piece is beautifully addicting in its own right, one can’t help but feel empty after learning the piece was used in a 16-channel sound installation inside four pitch-black rooms in the same basement where the piece was recorded.
Whether choosing to sit through its entirety as a set one extended morning, afternoon, or night or breaking it out piecemeal, 5 Pieces is an overwhelming experience in all the right ways.