1: 20 September 2018
Some harmonics will only emerge if the player is patient and gentle, waiting to be unlocked by a very precise gesture. Other harmonics are present instantly but reside at the deepest depths of experience, evident only once the listener has descended beyond the reach of casual attendance. There are too many variables for these sounds to be created and heard on demand – too much imperfection and failure in even the most precise acts of human execution – and thus, the only way to become acquainted with the full palette of an instrument’s internal resonances is through persistent interaction. Striking, listening, striking again; repeating this cycle until striking and listening melt into one, and then continuing until the division between player and instrument starts to feel superficial too. There is only the act of resounding: a process of shedding the solidity and inertia that confines us as people and things.
The Space Inside consists of two 15-minute pieces: the first for tam-tam (a type of Chinese gong) and the second for bass drum. An inversion takes place in each instance. The dormant resonances that reside within the instrument are released into the air, while the lights of player-listener consciousness are turned inward upon listening exclusively, with the origins of sound disappearing into the mist of absolute sensation. On “The Space Inside For Solo Tam Tam”, the piece strikes upon a pair of frequencies that hover an octave apart, the lower note like a plinth beneath the suspended orb of the upper note. Other frequencies coil around this sculpture like ivy, often bulging into dissonances that press into the vertical surfaces. The structure quivers slightly, in momentary recognition of its ephemeral instability. On “Waiting For The Passing For Solo Bass Drum”, bass tones resemble an underground train rumbling beneath my feet, amplified in the enclosed concrete space of the platform. Throughout the piece, I become increasingly aware of a faint chord in the background, too beautiful to endure the turbulence that surrounds it, perpetuated somehow from the pattern of colliding frequencies.
I mean it as a compliment when I confess that I forget that Tomlinson is present. She disappears into the continuum of sound and concentration. We both do. It’s the curious contradiction of music like this, where reduction to the most basic interaction of player and instrument cannot help but transcend both entirely. Within the raw presentation of a person hitting an object resides a portal into the pure abstraction of listening. Needless to say, my most potent experiences with The Space Inside have happened when my eyes have been closed.
Tomlinson’s solo career has generally seen her favour the live experience over recorded works, due to her interest in pursuing “a sense of intense presence” – a quality that, on the face of it at least, manifests more potently in the performance format. Of course, I can’t escape the fact that there is no physical instrument in front of me when I listen to The Space Inside. Yet as the music persists over time, it gradually sheds this assumption that to be present is a physical trait. As I listen deeper, perceiving sound as vats of liquid into which I am submerged, this “presence” starts to emerge through a process of intense concentration. For the listener, presence is a slow divorce from time – time as a mucilage that melts under the heat of the devoted senses, leaving just sensation and the forces of concentration.
I slide deeper into the alternating hums of the tam tam, separating resonance and the hiss of stirred metal into separate entities, incited to persist by the fact that everything is always changing; tones negotiating and conceding stereo terrain, fluid in their redressing of the boundaries of frequency. The bass drum becomes a duet between rattled plastic and distant thunder – the flimsy complaints of the membrane contrasted with the cautionary prophecy of the skies, once again engrossed in a dialogue of reshaping and competitive occupation. I am kept present by the perseverance of change, unable to let go lest I miss an immaculate collision, or forgo the nourishment of an experience that continues to become deeper and more rewarding. There is no physical instrument in front of me, yet both The Space Inside and I are irrefutably here.
Today, I’m hearing presences within “Waiting For Solo Bass Drum” that I’ve never noticed before: notably, moments where the rumble seems to sweep up and down with gymnastic zeal, energy levels surging and waning, pitches climbing and falling in accordance with the swelling and subsiding intensity. That chord I observed on 20 September is more pronounced than ever now, promoted from the background to become the track’s central adhesive. Like a face witnessed within an inanimate object, it becomes more intensely defined the longer I spend with it. No longer an accidental byproduct, but the composition’s central message.