Jarl’s Case 1959: Dyatlov was quite possibly my favourite release of 2015. It’s frightening and unsettling without being obvious (which is never scary), a sonic bay with a shocking undertow that drags you down into the mystery that inspired it. So when I saw the announcement of a new Jarl album, you can bet I was first in the queue to get my grubby little paws (or ears) on a copy.
Amygdala Colours- Hemisphere Rotation is described by the artist/ label as “an internal trip through the structures and events of the cognitive mind with a focus on the Amygdala, where the processing of memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions occur”. I believe it can be seen and heard as the counterbalance to Dyatlov’s voyage into the wild and possibly into the cosmos (depending on what theory one believes of events there), reflecting a voyage inside and the vast unknown of our own minds.
The amygdala are small, almond-shaped processing centres in the brain that are, as the notes inform us, responsible for emotions and the processing of memories. That means that they are involved in both our most basic reactions, such as fear (the infamous “fight or flight” reaction) and some of the most complex. They’re implicated as well in the development of mental abnormalities, such as schizophrenia, anxiety and autism. Locked away in the most difficult to access part of our brains, they hum along, telling us how to evaluate the world around us in both helpful and damaging ways, dictating our reactions from their invisible realm.
Sonically, Jarl gives us a portrait of these emotional centres at work. It’s a strikingly dispassionate sounding one for a contemplation of the root of our most (seemingly) irrational reactions, but it’s also appropriate. The amygdala processes and sends out signals without ever feeling those emotions itself. Like an industrial machine, it does its job divorced from the consequences. The album is one 55-minute track, the rising and uninterrupted flow of an automated process, opened briefly for observation.
The track builds up from near-silence and the build is slow; 12 minutes in, it’s still fluttering on the threshold of being audible, and it requires intense concentration to appreciate the depth and layering of the sound. I like a release that commands attention, but even for me, the listening process bordered on exhausting. Played as a soundtrack to other activities, it’s flat, almost non-existent and I’d say that headphones are pretty much necessary if the album is to be anything other than background noise.
Deep focus is rewarded with hypnotic, looping sounds that are paradoxically relaxing and stimulating, the sound of our cerebral engine at work. It’s not dissimilar to some early Zoviet France material, although it’s decidedly less organic. Insofar as the aural tide rises, and it never reaches more than a medium volume, so you can crank up that volume without fear, it does so as successive waves that sound like pulsars from another planet, a universe hidden inside us that we can’t even see.
The album is an overall placid experience, becoming more insistent as it progresses, but never abrasive. It lacks the sinister spinal cord of Dyatlov, which makes sense since the amygdala itself is not a sinister actor, but a neutral one. It’s as straightforward a drone as you can get without slipping into the world of completely stripped-down minimalism.
Personally, I didn’t love this one in the way I loved Dyatlov, but that’s an album that’s going to haunt me forever. But it’s hard to find fault with Jarl’s meticulous constructions and even harder to resist the invitation to scrutinize the flow of our own minds.