1:23 May 2019
We begin with the voice spilling out from the throat. As a mere wisp to begin with, like a candle flame. Gradually it fans outward, engulfing empty space, studded with chirps of electricity and streaked with a rumbling, toxic black. Saxophones curl out of the vapour like seahorses. The voice, once a solitary strand of human resounding, is now a shapeless diffusion of energy, interference and experience. Both of the pieces here carry titles that speak to a dislocation from the body (“Watching Myself From The Corner”, “I’m Flying Over The City”), with this first track enacting this transcendence beyond the boundaries of gravity and skin. The remnants of song – just barely audible as a siren-style “ooh” – smear themselves into the cacophony of everything: the crunchy hydraulics of industry, surreal manipulations of familiar instruments, the howls of hurricanes converging upon emptiness. So often these transcendent experiences are associated with sounds of serenity. On False Awakening, prising the immaterial essence out of the body is a ferocious process.
The ground is absent throughout. This entire release feels airborne, scratched into the wind. Saxophone loops move manically from left to right, chased by the harsh scraping of uncut nails on parchment, cutting across the currents of ethereal vocal sighs, and then shrinking into the granular blindness of a terrifying sandstorm that slowly consumes the entirety of the frame, reducing all shapes to speckled silhouettes behind a veil of corrosive static. I imagine the effect to be akin to dangling one’s head out of an aeroplane hatch while hurtling over the land at altitude. The sheer wall of air renders me powerless – blinding me, deafening me – and yet the overall effect is ecstatic, rendered in a primal ensemble of speed, resistance and sky, dragging me through the hallucinations that curdle in the margin between maximal life and death.
What is Maryam Sirvan singing throughout “Watching Myself From The Corner”? I hear what sounds like “is this a dream?”, sung in slow lullaby, lifted by the softness of absent certainty. Dreams are often shattered by a suspicion such as this. They thrive on the dreamer’s unreserved investment and dissipate once doubt starts to enter the frame. The question usually arises when experience becomes too frightening or absurd to readily induct into reality. It’s reassuring to feel the edges of the dreamscape melting as soon as I start to question them. But what if this doesn’t happen? The swirling, cataclysmic surroundings do not response to Sirvan’s calls of “is this a dream?”. They persist. In fact, the situation seem to intensify – instruments bend under noise that rattles through the air like a gale. Throwing these images into doubt only hardens them. “Wake up!” Sirvan calls, escalating the query into a urgent self-directed demand. Her voice starts to diffuse into the cyclone that wraps around her, and I imagine her edges loosening into the wind, the air thickening into the colour of her hair and skin and clothing, as the division between body and dream slips away. False Awakening doesn’t just indulge in the terror of being unable to awake from a dream; it posits that to inhabit a dream for too long is to become it, until even the notion of “waking up” is obliterated into nonsense.
4: 26 June 2019
Today I imagine the overwhelming intensity of seeing False Awakening performed live. The constant quake of the subs causing my legs to go numb. My ears filling up with noise and voices; my hearing reaching saturation point. A loudness that makes my vision blur slightly, as I look upward to see the corners of the room bend and bulge. The atmosphere has shifted. I feel different. My head clogs with the same thick deliriousness that causes Maryam and Milad to sway so weightlessly. Over time myself and the audience start to do the same, everyone connected in this woozy, reality-adjacent state. Hard edges dissolve. Echoes unravel saxophone notes into spiralling infinities. Breaths become indistinguishable from the howl of white noise. I realise that we’ve all risen into NUM’s dreamspace, inhabiting the cinema of sleep together. As the noise fades into silence and applause trickles in like rain, the room awakes as one; a cluster of bodies blinking uncertainly, rediscovering the parameters of waking life.