on being weird: suburban ambience

on being weird: suburban ambience

Two years ago I moved into a detached private residence on the south east side of the town. It offered a quiet, suburban sort of life, free of the claustrophobia that can be found in the rows and rows of terraced housing that permeate through the centre. Moving there provided a odd sense of worth, because as we were just four young men straight out of university we weren’t used to such homely accommodation. We really had transcended our position, or at least our pay grades. Fortunately we took care to speak to the owners eloquently and with propriety so as to market ourselves as right for their property. From there my own personal view of that time is one of mixed feelings; of restless energy inhabiting new freedom, new geographic landscape finding surfacing curiosity, exploration of sound and ambience coming up against strange, oscillating atmospheres, softly moving against the minute hand of the wall clock. In retrospect it feels like life never moved on, that we didn’t grow and started to lose ourselves, but all the time that clock kept ticking before us. It was probably my own unique position that enhanced this view. Of being in work but with no responsibility, only to pay the bills at the end of the month and to keep myself alive so that my band could carry on in perpetuity neither ascending nor descending, just being.

Although the frustration and restlessness of this life was frequently on my mind it never pushed me far enough, things were stuck in motion that couldn’t be hastened by simple wants. During this time I adapted to the frustrations of restlessness and sought out new avenues of exploration, first of all having my eyes opened by Aldous Huxley, Arthur C. Clarke and Arthur Machen. Happening concurrently to this the Internet was rapidly changing as free ad-supported software opened up my ears to sounds that would have taken me years to come across. Suddenly I had access to myriad new sounds and atmospheres, from Kraftwerk to Brian Eno, to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, to July, Television Personalities, Liars, Growing and a million more artists. Libraries of ideas were now open to me in a way that I never had access to before. I was swamped by them. It was like being given the keys to a vast record shop for eternity, flicking through the records slowly, choosing without discretion because unlimited time means unlimited opportunity. And so as these two worlds collided a new dawn began, creating in my mind a vision of the world that I had not yet thought about previously, formed by a new vocabulary of discovery and a vibrant soundscape of noise, drone and ambient music. As Machen explored London in his dark short story The Great God Pan, so I too started to explore my own inner and outer landscape.

Give a young mind the resources to acquire psychotropic drugs and the curiosity to seek a new understanding of his surroundings and he is bound to come to a bright new reality. Ketamine has always provided a distinct vision of the world for me as if the world becomes touched by a new light filled with meaning. Leconfield Road furnished a strange new playground of suburban delights, as we charged our minds with a dull power we flicked the switch and held back the hour hand.

Frequently we would surface at night and promenade down the sleepy street, collapsing about us like drunks. But what would interest me most was not the absurd, broken walks we would attempt but the magic of the evening sky, the wholesomeness of the scene about us, the trees caught by the light of a nearby streetlamp. It seemed to offer peace and warmth, as if we were part of it, floating about in the amniotic fluid like careless new creatures. From our house to the end of the night those neutered walks produced a certain sanguine freedom that made us glow. I recall the fascias of each house dimming as we faded in a dream upon a narrow pathway cut off from existence by a constricted lens. Whole worlds fell and tumbled into oblivion, whole new ones were instantly created and then washed away in the ebb and flow of our mind’s great expansion. Built upon swirling vortices this pleasant suburban scene was gone, replaced by a new scene bringing our attention onto the small groves of trees, or the harsh asphalt rivers flowing on into emptiness, or some other contrasting reality. We were suburban voyagers on a dark dérive, true psychogeographers of our suburban landscape. We dismantled the old brick buildings with their polite white plastic sheen and instead formed real architecture, reactive to the power of the moment in time, induced into life by the limitless potency of our minds.

This all forms in my mind as a wave of emotion like the disorientated scenes I’ve been describing. These adventures were really an expression of a feeling, of music channelling philosophy channelling real life. At this time I found this expression most particularly in Fuck Button’s Street Horsing. It was the droning synth sounds coupled with the babbling vocals and all the other absurd noises that created a certain type of atmosphere for me. It found favour at the most meditative corner of my conscious. I would lie back and listen to it this sonic landscape explode through my speakers as it seemed to conduct the very thoughts on my mind. Those landscapes that I had read about, like Clarke’s new world fantasies or Huxley’s spiritual paradises had suddenly become vivid like it was real. Fuck Buttons’ Colours Move explores this imaginary space casting dispersions of knowable realities into the mind’s eye. We hear the tribal percussion piercing through the deafening synth and it brings us to a brave new world, of dense jungle and multi-lane fly-overs, like a perfect embodiment of the waking dream where reality and unreality co-exist. When I listen back to that now it still evokes a kind of burning disorientation, like a blending between Fuck Button’s screeching distortion and the wild haze of ketamine.

Ambience in the way Brian Eno wanted his music to be heard bears a strange comparison to this. He desired music to be heard at room level, quiet enough to be perceptible but not overbearing. Nor should it become the main focus of the room but only as an additional character to the overall ambience. Similarly music in such states is so all encompassing that everything becomes music or musical. Ambience in that case is everywhere, with every subject of the eye’s gaze projecting some sound. Everything achieves ambience.

All those times we ventured from our house the universe came calling filling us with a wordly music. The curvature of the road, the lights from the houses, the crooked bend in the old Willow tree; all these produced a sonorous drone, an infinite music that exists for all time. We responded alike with our own howling and with the end of each night we came back to rest between our four walls, reverberating with giddy ambience.

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