For the past eight years, I have entered abandoned buildings to obtain field recordings. I can honestly say that I have never experienced anything remotely supernatural or unexplainable in these decaying environments. And there’s only one occasion where I was provided with a philosophical or spiritual insight. I was in a large, inoperable, derelict Philadelphia church – I will not name the place and will only say that it was in the North Western corner of the city. Within the church, there were organ pipes that spanned nearly three floors high. Since the pipes were in an extreme state of disrepair and enormous, they produced a most unusual sound. Whenever a gust of wind passed by, the organ briefly came alive again whistling a tune eerily like that of a human being, a hobo, or an old, but excited human being humming a lullaby. Initially afraid of a trespasser, it took about a half an hour before I felt comfortable even moving an inch while that sound played. Over time, wandering around the pews and the lofts, I began to understand. The only meaning the sound had was from me, what I associated, what I subjectively ascribed. Perhaps, then, given my surroundings, all religious experiences were of a similar vein: subjective realms of the mind and nothing more. This was the most hollow and cold thought imaginable. Interestingly, the sound I heard didn’t show up on any of the recordings I made that night as if to prove it was truly the product of my mind.
The Floating World (US)’s “The Apparition” is an attempt to explore a similar theme of anthropomorphism and pareioldia in music. According to the composer Amanda Votta, the project is an attempt to “capture that moment when things are other than what they appear to be, when a sound is not just a sound, a voice not just a voice.” Appropriately, the title of the album comes from a painting by Gustave Moreau. The scene depicted in the painting is of Salome being haunted by the head of John the Baptist. According to the Gospels, Salome is the infamous individual responsible for convincing King Herod to execute John the Baptist. She seductively danced for the king, entrancing him to the point where he said he would give her anything she wanted. Her request was for a political assassination. Moreau portrays her in his painting as a symbol of vice literally haunted by her decisions – haunted by the floating head of an ancient visionary. There couldn’t be a more fitting motif for The Floating World – a delirious woman like Lady Macbeth pointing to a head that she truly believes is hovering in the air to torment her; an experience of something that one thinks is there, but really is only created by one’s own psyche. and maybe, just maybe, that is the way things really are; that which is ‘real’ is that which made manifest in the psyche.
The Floating World is rooted firmly in the new territory a few dark ambient artists are treading such as Kerovnian, Northaunt, The Caretaker, and Defiler. The idea is to make ambient that is not uplifting or as atmospheric and sc-fi based as, say, Lustmord and K.K. Null. Instead, there’s a bit more traditional music and recognizable sounds thrown into the mix. The merger of these elements into dark ambient results in the creation of the exact same mood as a horror film. And usually these new dark ambient artists play off of their connection to horror films. Yet, what separates The Floating World from all of the aforementioned artists is Amanda Votta’s technical expertise and complicated ideas. There’s a lot of orchestration for flutes, stringed instruments, and bells in “The Apparition” that seem as if they’re executed using a score only a classically trained musician could compose. At certain times when the effects are taken down, one can hear the sophistication in the arrangements – some of which vaguely resemble pieces by Morton Feldman. At other points, delays and effects are programmed in such a manner that frequency patterns play off one another and painfully attack the listener. A flute or keyboard will catch onto its delay pattern and expand, ringing the distance tone throughout the ears. This is the sort of technique you’d expect from someone who’s taken an audio engineering class – and all of these tricks only point to the craftsmanship of Votta.
Despite the use traditional instruments, The Floating World is an immensely difficult listen. The way tones build upon each other is nauseating, and I do not mean aesthetically. I had to actually take breaks from the first part of the album because I was getting sick. And this is coming from a big fan of noise who rarely pauses anything – even when it’s Massona, Vomir, ASPS, or Merzbow destroying speakers. Yet, no such noise is needed for Amanda Votta to disturb her listeners; she just needs some reverb and some space. In any case, there certainly are times when The Floating World achieves its aim to capture moments where “a sound is not just a sound, a voice not just a voice.” The visceral audio effects are certainly proof of that. But there are a few times when the album whispers and jolts the listener as if they aren’t merely hearing the voice of Votta and her strings, but a voice from some metaphysical location beyond us. I personally look forward to watching the project develop and wonder what new locations it will take dark ambient.
01) Another Way
03) Belief in Summer
04) Chromatic Aberration
07) If Only the Moon