BJ Nilsen – Irreal
- Short circuit of the conscious thought 15:20
2. Motif mekanik 12:50
3. Beyond pebbles, rubble and dust 38:28
All material by BJ Nilsen
Recorded and Mixed at Odd Phasing and Echoes, Amsterdam NL 2021
Source material from Austria, Russia, South Korea and The Benelux
Mastered by Stephan Mathieu, June 2021
Photography Karl Lemieux
Design by Stephen O’Malley
Irreal definition is – not real.
‘In order to imagine, a consciousness must be able to posit an object as irreal’— nonexistent, absent – Jean Paul Sartre
Irreal is a selection of recordings from different situations encountered in Austria, Russia, South Korea and The Benelux. The range of sound is as wide as is the emotional impact which slides from the unnvering to the shimmering and gorgeous. Doors, Bells, Birds, Wet snow falling from a tree, hacking of wood, Water dripping in a cave are all exquisitely captured and moulded into vast landscapes of sound. Human voices, String instruments, Descending trains, Oceans, Winds, Grass, Trees. These diverse sonic elements are grafted around and upon each other to create a rich tapestry of sound. Electronic embellishments harness the whole to create a singular expressive canvas. The 3 part suite concludes with the Beyond pebbles, rubble and dust, a grand glacial work which serves as a masterclass in extraordinary transcendental drone. The sound of nature, the nature of sound and the effects these have on humans has been a primary focus of Nilsen’s investigation over the years. Irreal resounds with a level of sophisticated enquiry one would expect from one of the contemporary masters of the form.
From Aural Aggreavation by Christopher Nosnibor
BJ Nilsen’s focus has long been the ‘sound of nature, the nature of sound and the effects these have on humans’, and his exploratory collages and soundscapes tend to draw of field recordings and myriad other sources to create often contrasting, and dissonant works, and Irreal is very much dissonant and contrasting, with moments of tranquillity and subtle, quivering elongated drones disrupted by battering blasts of difficult noise.
The liner notes outline how ‘Irreal is a selection of recordings from different situations encountered in Austria, Russia, South Korea and The Benelux. The range of sound is as wide as is the emotional impact which slides from the unnerving to the shimmering and gor- geous. Doors, bells, birds, wet snow falling from a tree, hacking of wood, water dripping in a cave are all exquisitely captured and moulded into vast landscapes of sound. Human voices, string instruments, descending trains, oceans, winds, grass, trees. These diverse sonic elements are grafted around and upon each other to create a rich tapestry of sound. Electronic embellishments harness the whole to create a singular expressive canvas. The 3 part suite concludes with the Beyond pebbles, rubble and dust, a grand glacial work which serves as a masterclass in extraordinary transcendental drone.’
I’m instantly primed for some challenging scraping drones as the first few seconds of ‘Short Circuit of the Conscious Thought’ build tense, treble scratches, and am immediately puzzled when it halts and there are just clicks in silence. It’s as if the file has inexplicably glitched. From the quiet, a trilling, rippling drone emerges and hangs like a haze – but that smooth stillness carries a tension, which ruptures with distortion and bands like a dozen car doors slamming simultaneously, and at the most unexpected of times. In the final minutes, it evolves into a slow-pulsing minimal ambient Krautrock sequence reminiscent of Tangerine Dream.
Rumbling thunder cracks and crackles all around at the start of ‘Motif Mekanik’, and it booms and grumbles all around a low, ominous drone, and the track is a tumbling tempest of amorphous noise like a raging storm circling and hovering, drifting back and forth, and it’s unsettling. The contrast of the sounds of the elements and the metallic scrape of the eternal drone is perhaps the most obvious way in which Nilsen highlights the relationship between nature and humans, the man-made and the organic. It also intimates the tensions at the heart of that relationship, as strains of ear-splitting feedback cut through the murk and mumble, and it segues quietly into the expansive final composition, the monumental thirty-eight minute ‘Beyond Pebbles, Rubble, and Rust’ – and I know ‘immersive’ is a word I probably use excessively, but it’s entirely appropriate as I find myself swimming amidst the thick, slow—moving sounds of the piece.
Lazy bleeps, like R2D2 on a low battery or the Clangers on ketamine bibble into the mix, before fading out to a drifting mist of dark rumblings that present not immediate routes into the heart of dark mass, only an impenetrable mass of sound, like a mountain rising to the heavens, its summit hidden by a low cloud base. A low bass registers almost subliminally, a single note repeated slow and regular, booming out dolorously. Not a lot happens over a very long time, but the effect is cumulative, and as you sit and stare while the drones and spectral wails of ambience envelop, you find yourself in contemplation and searching for the meaning.
There are all shades of reality, spanning the unreal and the hyperreal. But the irreal is not real. However, where the irreal is distinct from unreal lies in the perception – not just something unreal, but estranged and otherly. In drawing on so many found sounds and field recordings, Nilsen’s album is in fact rooted in the tangibly real, bur recontextualises it, shifting the axes so as to present that reality through the filter of human intervention and incongruity, and as such, distorts that reality to present an interpretation which in turn becomes a fiction and therefore not real, or irreal.
As the rain hammers outside on this early July night, following a day of heavy storms, it occurs to me that what Nilsen articulates through his sonic juxtapositions, is that the relationship between human and nature is precarious: we, as a species, are not nature’s friends, and that progress is disruptive and often damaging – and it’s the human way to command, control, and harness nature for our own ends. But that superiority is an illusion, a delusion, and humanity will always be at nature’s mercy. The relationship is not interdependent or symbiotic, and we need the natural world , whereas it does not need us. In time, we may reach a point where our planet is uninhabitable to us, and to many other species, but it will exist long after we have ceased to, just as it did before. Darkness descends, and at the close, the album tapers to silence – and this is as it will be.
From Felthatreviews by Hubert Heathertoes
BJ Nilsen masterfully blends field recordings with experimental electronics to create passages that are almost hallucinogenic in form, they create an ambience that is thoroughly helpful towards our own trip into the depth of the sound. The inner landscape of self-inquiry and desolation.
From A Closer Listen by Richard Allen
It’s been a while since BJ Nilsen has released an album proper, although last year’s multi-month, hours-long pandemic project Pending / Auditory Scenes Amsterdam should be an album ~ it stands as one of the year’s most enduring sonic documents. Now that Nilsen is no longer recording the daily sounds of his home town, he’s had time to return to more intense, layered soundscapes, the first fruits found on Irreal. It’s a strange title, as unreal is the more common usage, but the title lends the project a hint of the otherworldly. The recordings are in fact real, but since they have been culled from multiple continents, the tapestry is artificial: real / irreal.
While the album contains only three tracks, the closing piece is long enough to be an album to itself. The tracks operate as a triptych, imprinting a sonic spectrum, found, captured, created. Nilsen’s use of stereo is particularly noteworthy: in the opening seconds, a clank, a clunk, a whoosh from speaker to speaker alerts the listener that the conductor is making full use of all available tools. But within these works is also a crispness, whether droplets or doors; as well as an intimacy that makes one want to lean close, but not too close, as the current sound may be quiet, but the next may be loud. Nilsen adds his own electronic flourishes to the found sounds to create something wholly original. To find the field recordings, one must delve into the center of the pieces: for example, the birdsong and trains of “Motif mechanik,” embedded in the drone.
It all leads to the 38:28 behemoth “Beyond pebbles, rubble and dust.” The track affords Nilsen the opportunity to play with volume and density, two of his favorite spectrums. The piece rises slowly, carefully, not a hair out of place, building first to thickness, then silence. A door creaks, but what lies beyond the crease? The title may indicate progress, but the tone indicates destruction. At first, it seems that someone is poking through debris, but eventually it seems as if a grand structure is collapsing. Again, this is irreal. It happened / it didn’t happen. The dichotomy lies at the base of discussion. Indelible impressions can be created from the imagination. By leaving parts of the canvas blank, Nilsen invites listeners to adopt their own interpretations. Are we gripped by large forces that we cannot control? How much agency do we have? If we move pebbles, rubble and dust, are we making a difference? What might we rebuild from this wreckage?
From African Paper by A.Kaudaht
Die zahlreichen Klänge, die BJ Nilsen, der älteren Semestern noch von seinen Projekten Morthound und Hazard her bekannt sein könnte, auf “Irreal” zu einem dichten, feinmaschigen Gewebe zusammengefügt hat, wurden in den letzten Jahren an unterschiedlichen Orten der Welt von Westeuropa bis Ostasien aufgenommen. Im Rahmen des Albums jedoch, das als dreiteilige, dröhnende Suite konzipiert ist, werden sie zur Soundkulisse eines ganz eigenen, dem Titel entsprechend imaginären Schauplatzes.
Dieses Setting erinnert an vielen Stellen an eine vom Wind durchwehte Rumpelkammer, in der es in allen Ecken knallt und knackt und rumpelt, unheimliches Schaben und Kratzen (an der Tür?) macht sich kurz bemerkbar, ähnlich etwas, das eine menschliche Stimme sein könnte, doch genau weiß man das nicht: Alle Sounds, die im Opener auftauchen, die manchmal ganz im Zentrum des geschehens stehen, dann wieder in voluminöser Dröhnung verschwinden, bleiben seltsam ungreifbar, da sie so kunstvoll miteinander vermengt sind. Irgendwann fällt auf, dass die Klangfolgen repetitiver, hypnotischer geworden sind, und ein fast meditativer Wahrnehmungsmodus stellt sich ein und lässt auch abrupte Detonationen gegen Ende anders hören.
Das folgende “” beginnt mit einem sanften Schwebedrone, doch dass hier eine generell einlullendere Stimmung vorherrscht, kann ebenso von dem zunächst fast heimeligen Regenschutt herrühren, dem quietschende Möwen zusätzliches Kolorit verleihen. Doch mit der angenehmen Regression ist es bald vorbei, denn fast unmerklich zunächst steigert sich dar Schutt in ein sintflutartiges Chaos, in welchem die Zivilisation – zumindest suggerieren verzweifelte Schreie und dramatisches Rumpeln dies – recht abrupt “rückgebaut” wird. Kaum jemand würde es Nilsen übelnehmen, wenn alles in purem Lärm enden würde, aber hier wird auf einen offenen, trotz hochfrequenter Fiepstöne ambivalenten Schluss gesetzt.
Das abschließende “Beyond Pebbles…” erstreckt sich über eine halbe Stunde, und lässt sich folglich mehr Zeit im Aufbau. Einmal mehr macht die langsam wellenförmige Dröhnung, was sie besonders gut kann, nämlich die angefixten Ohren angenehm in Watte packen. Erst nach einer ganzen Weile hört man, wie schwere Türen quietschend und knarrend geöffnet werden, und aquatische Sounds machen sich breit. Die Situation würde manch einen an Nurse With Wounds himmlische Salzmarie erinnern, wären dan nicht die Vögel und anderen Tierstimmen, die die apokalyptischen Szenerie gleichsam parodieren.
Und wieder fällt das Ungreifbare dieser drei Suiten ins Auge, das Anfang und Ende sein könnte und ernste Dramatik ebenso wie Humor umfasst. Wenn sich kurz vor dem leise verebbenden Schluss noch einmal die krachenden Gezeiten laut aufbäumen, kann man sich eine Welt ohne Sintflut – ob real oder irreal – kaum noch vorstellen.