Review: WaSm – Een

a0249187586_2Allegedly, these edited/mixed improvisations by Jos Smolders and Frans de Waard were recorded during a single day at Smolders’ own EARLabs studios. I promptly forget this. After a few minutes, I think of Een as the sonic diary of two veteran submarine maintenance engineers. They’ve been at the bottom of the ocean for months. Heads throb with the rumble of water pressure as they traverse the various corridors and engine rooms, descending into pitch-black hatches and wandering through doors adorned with hazard signs, clanging and clattering as they unscrew corroded plumbing and disengage hydraulic pumps, occasionally jumping at the hallucinatory voices and bangs that encumber an isolated mind. It’s unclear whether Smolders and de Waard worked under a conceptual premise, but their sonic palette undoubtedly leans toward the noises of hydro-powered industry: fluid bubbling its way through networks of pipes, motors humming in states of prolonged, somewhat nauseating standby.

There are no climaxes (unless you count the forewarning sirens and vapour sprays at the opening of “Drie”), yet Een doesn’t sink into a state of tranquillity either. Instead, it quivers somewhere between the mundane and the restless, sloshing back and forth between cognitive stagnation and jolts of paranoia. The two players maintain this terrible equilibrium effortlessly, adding more detail as the scene starts to materialise, while using the explosive whim of improvisation to catch the listener – and eachother – by surprise. Yet even though the vivid atmosphere of Een thrives on the spontaneity of its creation, I’m immersed to the point where I forget about the presence of instruments altogether. Instead of synths, I hear cockpit controls. Instead of field recordings, I hear the ghosts of memory coming back to haunt me. Smolders and de Waard melt into their own mise en scène.