It makes sense that it starts in medias res, with a welter of traffic noise and an amplified voice in the distance singing indistinctly. Up close you can make out snatches of laughter and echoing crowd sounds, the rumble of panning engines and blatting horns. We’re indoors and outdoors. In a market. At a festival. Or perhaps it’s just another day in the thrumming city. And while one listens, trying to get bearings, a drone slowly builds – a low tone and a high tone in the same key. Something that sounds like a teletype machine kicks in, getting louder as it goes, while under that a static-choked voice mumbles on a radio. Then suddenly we’re in a restaurant, with the random ding of a delivery bell (or a bicycle bell?), a woman’s voice taking orders, perhaps, or chatting with a customer, and the gentle rattle of what sounds like a register drawer. The drone, however, is still there, hovering, menacing.
Then it’s all shredded by an unidentifiable blast and we’re somewhere else entirely.
Welcome to The Stilling, the latest album from drøne, aka Mark Van Hoen and Mike Harding.
The Stilling is a work you submit to. A bricolage of locations and dislocations, moods and moments made from decontextualized field recordings, radio static, and synthesized sounds that stretch and bend and build until they collapse, then rebuild or mutate or disappear altogether. Here and there, a compact string section provides keening emotional counterpoint that contributes to the anxious psychic states that Van Hoen and Harding whip up. As a whole, the effect is disorienting and jarring and altogether mesmerizing.
I’ve been a follower of Van Hoen’s eclectic output since 1994 when I first heard Weathered Well, an album I still listen to and love. He had a sound that was uniquely his own, but what always grabbed me were his gorgeous melodies. His partner in drøne, Mike Harding, along with Jon Wozencroft, is a founder of the massively influential label Touch, home to forward-thinking, innovative sound artists and musicians, such as Simon Scott, Christian Fennesz, Oren Ambarchi, and Hildur Gudnadottir. Chances are I might not be working on this blog if not for the hundreds of hours I’ve happily spent coming to grips with the music and ideas that Touch has exposed me to.
No single track can do justice to the totality of The Stilling and anything taken out of context runs the risk of misrepresentation. Here’s a little more anyway, to give you a taste:
If you’re curious, you can try the whole thing here.
While the title refers to the phenomenon of the generalized stilling of the winds around the world – something that may or may not be happening – I think it might also be referring to the need to retreat, to disengage from the apocalyptic vortex of the media in order to still one’s racing mind and heart.
Or, as the artists themselves put it:
Scream – it’s all you can do now. Overwhelming, scatter-gun information delivery has us confused, bowel churningly fearful and appalled at the nature of the changing times. We are biologically, psychologically and emotionally able to cope with slow evolutionary change, but struggle with revolutionary, violent distortion or mutation. This leaves us anxious and even desperate for a firmer footing. Fight or flight.
Or maybe both. The Stilling is an essay of sorts, a take on the fragility of our species, the fragility of our planet, our home. It’s a short run, around 35 minutes, but it will sweep you up and take you to another world that, curiously enough, is somehow still our own.