1: 24 January 2019
In the mind’s eye, 7 Directions is a gigantic wheel. It spins at such a pace that a familiar optical illusion starts to take place: a much slower rotation borne from within the cyclical blur. Two different speeds of time merged into one. I’m led into the margin between that rumbling rhythmic drive and the hallucinatory synthesiser smear, the latter like a hand dragging a cloud across a dimming sky, the former like stones of various sizes arranged into beautiful patterns. The tumbling smack of communal bodily dexterity; the trembling soar of inner spiritual possibility. Holding both in my mind simultaneously is hard, and I can only truly concentrate on one at a time. That is – unless I let the powers of scrutiny run lax, and allow 7 Directions to pour in while my senses are soft.
In this state I find my attention drifting toward the edges, where the soft electronic tones seem to warble and perish, rippling as though witnessed through waves of extreme heat, pulled into ambiguity by echo. I still feel the pulsations of those Congolese percussive polyrhythms somewhere beneath, pushing me upward, blissfully insistent in their repetition (or deceptive lack thereof). Streams of energy that levitate at the margins of life, bristling at the periphery of both awareness and human understanding, as non-corporeal forces offering glimpses of a reality beyond this one. I’m aware that the record is founded upon Nkisi’s interest in African Cosmology (particularly the writings of scholar Dr Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau), and no doubt informed by her pursuit of the possibilities of psychoacoustics: two energies that pull my listening beyond the mere receipt of sound, and toward a total and utter enswathing of body and mind. Where will it take me from here?
The first track hit me hard today. As an opener, it’s perfect – expectant, wide open like curtains pulled back, beckoning energy into the empty space…the voice like a tannoy announcement ricocheting off immaculate marble walls, the tambourine quivering like a part of the train mechanism rattling loose…the drums in gallop, with tiny rumbles tucked under the main thumps of emphasis…the synthesiser like a electric piano from an 80s ballad, albeit melted down and poured into two glistening pools (one to the left, one to the right). It aligns me with the infinite whirl of 7 Directions, and helps me understand the music as this lush, singular process of becoming – a powerful, yet weightless evocation of the journey-as-endpoint, or a train tilting upward and leaving the tracks behind, churning its way toward the sun.
The downbeat is nowhere and everywhere. Take track four, with its scorched synthesiser that veers across stereo space like an asteroid, and a beat that assembles into criss-cross of cracked kindling, and a persistent bass vibration that prevents the ground from ever feeling stable. There’s never a point when the rhythm resets; no discernible meter through which I can trace the passing of time. I can’t comprehend each moment via its distance from the beginning or end of a bar. Instead I feel like I’m running at a horizon line while running away from a horizon line – the same horizon line perhaps? – with my perpetual, present motion as my only reference point. This fourth track is a clattering celebration of the fact that I am alive now, and that a certain sort of immortality exists in this ever-renewing awareness of life, now, as expressed through inexhaustible movement. After all, what is mortality to a soul that never stops to awaken it through contemplation?
And this movement is always more intricate than I care to notice. There are many ways to listen to 7 Directions, but here are two that come to mind right now: as a panoramic totality consumed all at once, or as a constellation of objects where each invites its own, dedicated appreciation and tactile scrutiny. For now, let’s take that distorted siren pulse at the centre of the fifth piece. Spherical in shape, ignorant to the tonality of the composition elsewhere, unequivocally danger-red in colour yet dulled somewhat – like the dimming alert signal of an emergency that happened 10 years prior, still pulsing long after the catastrophe has passed. It runs at a syncopated diagonal against the main rhythm, then falters into irregular flashes, then disappears entirely, then slingshots into the foreground with revived urgency. I could take any instrument on the entire record and follow its path, and feel certain that no single sound will reveal itself to be a background character. Instead, they are all protagonists awaiting an apt moment to grace my conscious attention.
The drums fit together with the undulating fluidity of speech, like a chant of clustered consonants and vowels. Tumbling and persistent utterances loaded with rimshots and handclaps and snares electronic throbs. Some even resemble the word “tumbling” in form, enacting a phonetic slingshot release and then resetting themselves. Nkisi manages to make their repetition feel eternally fresh, either through minor variances in the rhythms themselves or changes in the synthesisers with which they dialogue, acting like spotlights casting shadows and gleaming emphasis over difference sides of the percussive structures. Repetition doesn’t drain the rhythm of meaning but instead spurs it to flourish, dappling the edge of one electronic clack and freckling another with darkness.