Review of The Endless Change Of Colour [12k1074]

The Liminal (UK)

Marsen Jules (aka Martin Juhls) is, for want of more telling categorization, a sound poet. He works with sounds in the same way that a poet works with words. He explores their boundaries and potentials, their meaning and their non-meaning, their sonic possibilities, their existential capacities. If you’ve heard any of his previous stuff, his latest album — The Endless Change of Colour — shouldn’t disappoint. As the title intones, the album is made up of one single track, constituting the entire 47 minutes. What this does, by way of exemplifying a sense of endlessness, is provoke questions around the frameworks and boundaries through which we normally approach a work of this genre. Where his previous albums have been made up of separate tracks, The Endless Change of Colour shirks these limitations; it consists of a single, uninterrupted composition. And by doing so, Jules provokes some interesting questions around the iterative capabilities of music: does this music have a beginning or an end? How much of the demarcations in duration are to do with our own act of listening or not listening? Each time we listen, are we contributing to our conscious and pre-conscious memory of the album, and if so, does that denote a further intonation of the concept of endlessness? These are all interesting questions, but to the music itself…

Jules says, of the album’s production, that he took a “single phrase of an old jazz record” and “split [it] into three audio streams.” Once he’d done that he then transformed those streams into “loops, which break the original instrumentation down into sound resembling pure waves, harmonics and overtones.” By playing these loops to different time signatures, Jules says he could “create phasing patterns that continuously move and dance around each other,” and in a fittingly poetic way, Jules describes this “moving and dancing” as “a constantly-evolving lattice of sound.” He suggests that although the single track has been based on strict and fixed sets of rules, the music could, in theory, be “endless and ever-changing.” Hence the title.

The result is an expansive, atmospheric, direction-deferred sonic meandering. By taking this “single phrase,” Jules generates something completely different: what was “old jazz” becomes more of an electronic sound byte. There is no percussion or rhythm, per se, just these three streams, which, as he says, are layered over and around and underneath each other. The affective sound is whole and, for all its serenity, somewhat insistent, as if about to present you with something, or guide you through the doorway into the room that has the answers. It is a series of vibrations, pitched slightly off-key from each other, that push off each from other as they blanket your sonic space, sashaying around an aural sphere. It could be the score for a picturesque film, something washed out and slow, with stark and minimal spoken dialogue. It could be a soundtrack for a skating escapade down a long and outstretched urban road in the middle of the night. It could be the cure for insomnia. It could be a very good companion to a solitary acid adventure. Either which way, headphones are a must.

There’s been a lot said about conceptual art in recent years, and indeed it’s far from being a “new” practice. Yet, in our ever-increasing state of information overload, artists continually find it more and more productive to conceive of a concept, and then to use this concept to generate the entire work, be it a poem, a sculpture, or a sonic composition. In the act of defining the frameworks that determine the construction of the piece, the artist can successfully eschew the infinity of potential outcomes and remain within the framework that they have conceived of for the entire production of the piece. One possible (bi-)product of such practice is that the artist can avoid putting themselves into the work, thus avoiding any form of auto-biographical catharsis or self-indulgent confession. More importantly, particularly in this context, is the idea that the art can be both performed and performative, simultaneously shifting in and out of a so-called ambience and a more engaging composition that demands the listeners’ attention to bring it to life. In that state of performativity, the work opens itself to a large degree of polysemy: there are no threads that lead us to an ultimate or fixed signifier; each sign (or sound) could be taken to mean any number of things, or indeed uphold the concept that it has no fixed meaning. That’s up to the listener, and infers that, in more ways than one, the work is, after all, endless.

William Carlos William once said that a poem was a machine made of words. For Marsen Jules, it seems that music is a poem made of sounds.

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