Sunday, 10 January 2010

Deaf Center

David Byrne once informed us that Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens but that wasn’t meant to be a good thing was it? How about music where nothing ever happens? They call it ‘ambient’, but I don’t know if Deaf Center’s album, ‘Pale Ravine’, fully qualifies. Perhaps ‘Home Listening’ makes a little more sense, although that’s to suggest that you spend an equal amount of time in clubs, which most listeners don’t.
What happens is a mood, melancholic (sometimes) beautiful (always), whether in simple piano melodies or strings which soak your ears in sounds made, perhaps, for contemplation of an imaginary landscape in your head (that endless plain of possible thoughts)...or loss, memory, a ravine that is bottomless...whatever you like.
Once I had no time for this kind of music but last year I drifted towards it and this album was instrumental in that process. I kept on returning to it. Why not? I don’t care if the orchestration comes from the push of a button as opposed to the wave of a baton. This is our classical music, you might say. Poor things...we have no palaces in which to hear grand orchestras (well, there are concert halls for classical music but are you visiting them?).
Is it cheating? I guess the true maestros (composers and conductors) would have little regard for Deaf Center. But this is our shortcut to orchestrated beauty. I’m not saying it should replace Vaughan Williams, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t sit alongside. It may lack the refined intellectual grandeur of classical music, but then in this age of dumb culture, it still means a lot.
It sits in online stores alongside dubstep or techno (albeit in different categories) yet still in a world where segregation is not as clear as in the one outside.
Sometimes those cultural barriers seem impassable, even though, today, classical music is also just a click away.
By being included in the more tasteful stores, Deaf Center become a possible choice as opposed to the remote impossibility (seemingly) of stepping out and away from modernity towards the classic canon. This is modernity in a classical form, albeit one that owes more, perhaps, to cinema than Chopin, although the ghost of Satie also lingers here.
We listen by different degrees; rapt attention, intermittent absorption, casually (whilst doing something else) and so on. Quiet music can heighten responses, becoming either pure background, a distant sound, or something which rewards the most concentrated listening one can muster.
The world constantly vies for our attention, usually by way of these screens through which we communicate and become absorbed. We’re busy trying to catch what’s going on, following trails which we hope will lead us somewhere meaningful, hacking our way through the digital jungle, only to find more jungle, always...never the ending, seldom finding the clearing where there is peace, where we feel we can rest.
Although I live a quiet London street, a few hundred yards away the swarm of humanity rushes to and fro and some music reflects this perfectly, be it the urbane cool of Jazz or the futurism of Techno. Yet Deaf Center’s music in this environment is a reflection of that place inside where, if we’re lucky, there is a kind of calm, a stillness which many city-dwellers constantly seek as refuge from all that noise and movement.
If nothing really happens in this music to make the heart beat faster, or the mind to contemplate lyrical content, it has its own splendid lyricism and leaves our imagination free to create its own meanings. In a world where we are constantly being prodded into action and reaction by messages of all kinds, this freedom is a kind I wholeheartedly support.

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