1: 18 April 2019
Like rakes dragged through soil, the four harmoniums carve deep grooves through the air. Their paths intersect and rippling lattices are formed, with drones negotiating the division of space through warm oscillations, or running parallel amidst channels of weightless daylight, like the sun sieved through half-opened horizontal blinds. Individual moments appear static upon a casual listen, but a deeper listen promptly refutes that. Like a cloud, this barcoded smear of pulses and micro-dissonances is constantly restructuring itself, tightening its edges or unspooling into empty space, humming with a dialogue that recasts the harmonium drones as a tangled network of telepathic telephone wires that connect the players together. It’s inaudible, but the four musicians are constantly talking to eachother, constantly listening to eachother, constantly urging eachother to react, constantly reacting themselves.
Time collapses. Each piece lasts a heartbeat; lasts 17 minutes; will never end. Rhythm adopts an illusory quality. There are always 15 different pulses occurring at once, all at different speeds – some insistent like an anxious heart, others more like a slow and ovular throb. I find myself able to concentrate on one or the other in turn, which promptly gives the piece a dramatically different feeling: tranquil and oceanic, shivering with dread, matter-of-fact like a clock. Similarly, the tonal emphasis of each composition changes depending on what I choose to focus on. I contemplate a particular note for an extended time and it seems to drift to the foreground, in razor-sharp clarity as the other drones blur into subservience, stood like a tower that fills my view. If I switch focus, the same note is reduced to a faint pencil mark on the back wall. Every minor detail can be comprehended in innumerable different ways. The listening possibilities are infinite.
There is one moment of glorious convergence, which occurs about halfway through the second piece. The harmoniums all collapse upon a single note, which rings out with a surreal, shimmering clarity. All of that microscopic nuance collapses into the brute force of a single shape. There is nothing but a sudden sheer wall of primary colour, stripped of secondary detail and internal conflict. Having acclimatised to the thick, fraught harmonic ambiguity of the 25 minutes prior, this single note feels like a fateful moment of alignment. A solar eclipse. Partly it’s a conscious move on the part of the players to all occupy the same sensation at the same moment in time, and to unify into a single body of sound and desire. But it also feels like evidence of fate itself orchestrating a beautiful coincidence, overriding individual willpower to pursue the temptation of generating a scene of divine harmony. We’ve all had those experiences where the energies of the world align in a manner that feels too perfect to be described exclusively in terms of chance and accident. This one moment of melded intention feels like the wielded faculties of a much higher conductor.
Mood passes through my fingers like sand. Moments of serenity arise – the notes all resounding in harmonic agreement, like arrows all facing the same direction – yet the scene changes the moment I prescribe it a particular emotional hue. A harmonium slides out of position, and suddenly the smile is a grimace that stretches into the facial corners. Another lifts by a semitone, and levity returns with the subtlety of winter sunlight flaming on the edges of cloud. Every moment of dismay contains the genesis of joy and vice versa. We can call this “drone” providing we acknowledge what has always been true about drone: in parading the illusion of stasis, Het Interstedelijk Harmoniumverbond bring harsh radiance upon the immutable restlessness of now, in which stillness is simply the denial of larger gestures in a bid to foreground the smaller, fundamental movements that reside at the base of everything.
Alternatively, one can listen to Het Interstedelijk Harmoniumverbond just as one might listen to the roar of a nearby motorway or the cries of the sea: as one gigantic humming, with each instrument irreversibly fused to the others to form a seamless sprawling shape. This listening requires a softening of focus, and a stalling of that instinctive desire to lean into the intricacies. It feels like standing in the rain, not reacting to every raindrop but experiencing a steady and immersive drenching. The harmoniums pour down. Not in drops, but as a waterfall descending in surreal placidity. A stream of thick warm air pushed out of the bellows, oaken-scented, soft and balm-like against my ear canals, poured in from a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir. It is a ceaseless continuum. To say that I become numb to its presence implies that I become somewhat disconnected from it. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I become aligned with it, incorporating this gentle sonic pressure into my notion of experiential neutrality. Its weight becomes a facet of my overall sense of balance. As long as the harmoniums resound, I remain stable.