“Vertiginous proximity prevents us both from apprehending ourselves as a pure intellect separate from things and from defining things as pure objects lacking in all human attributes.”
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, from The World of Perception
It’s been my experience when listening to Richard Chartier’s work (I’ve written about him before) that I’m always pushed to reflect on not only what I’m listening to but what I am as a listening and interpreting being in relation to the work. Chartier’s latest, Variable Dimensions, continues and expands this reckoning.
From my first encounter on through repeated listens, I’ve felt it in my head before I was aware of hearing it. Variable Dimensions comes in surreptitiously, as if a kind of granulated pressure is being poured into my skull, and as it’s pouring in and rising, I become aware of a high ringing tone, and then a distant, buried pulse. But nothing settles. It all continues to subtly shift and ebb and throb and grow. Eventually, as the pressure eases, dissolving into a cloud of static, I become aware that with its cessation, a sense of unease and anxiety that’s been building in me is being leached away. In its place, on a more conscious level, appear unnerving questions about my own vulnerabilities to the simplest sorts of information. And the piece goes on changing from there.
I could have chosen another word, but “goes” suggests movement, which suggests space to move in, neither of which actually applies here. Yet as the title of the work implies, there are dimensions, just mostly of one’s own making.
This is Chartier’s suggestion for approaching Variable Dimensions:
To find words to adequately describe it, please listen to it.
In other words: It is. You are. Figure it out.
This is work that both begs and confounds description. It suggests space without occupying any. It simulates haptic qualities while lacking tactility. As it proceeds through its near hour-long span, I find that it distorts and erases any simplistic conception of time I might have as an ordered, directed progression. A complex and edifying relationship can be established with it, simply through listening. And this is something I find so fascinating and enriching about Variable Dimensions and the rest of Chartier’s work. His mastery of sound sculpting techniques and his willingness to push psychic and temporal boundaries address issues around information and experience in a media-saturated culture. (What is real? What is imagined? How do we know the difference?) For all of the seemingly “chilly,” minimalist trappings, it is “music” that is deeply felt, deeply aware of, and deeply interested in the listener.
It is. You are. Have a listen.