Info Persistent Repetition of Phrases - The Caretaker 
"Persistent Repetition of Phrases"
by The Caretaker
"Lacunar Amnesia 1"
"Persistent Repetition of Phrases"
"Rosy Retrospection"

The Caretaker 's URL


fn issue October 2011
'N-Plants' - Biosphere
'Sky Snails' - The Electric Golem
'Echo Park' - Willamette
'Gramophone Transmissions' - Broken Harbour
'Negative Space' - Blue Sausage Infant
'Home Patterning' - compilation
'Polychromatic Integers' - Richard Lainhart
'Generate Records' - compilation
'Sung In Broken Symmetry' - Aquarelle

Under the moniker Install is an independent record label run out of New York. Specialising in experimental music and found sound, James Kirby releases music that can perhaps be most appropriately described as quietly harrowing. His modus operandi appears to be that of sampling 1920s-30s ballroom jazz tunes, slowing them down, drenching them in reverb, and topping them off by amplifying the vinyl crackles in the mix.

Like the Caretaker’s previous releases, the album focuses on memory as a subject, and the song titles make overt references to various phenomena related to memory – Lacunar amnesia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Von Restorff effect, etc. Persistent Repetition of Phrases, as the name suggests, is an exercise in slowly evolving musical motifs. The nine tracks in the album are almost uniform in terms of pace and texture – and uniformly great.

Various theorists such as Mark Fisher and Steve Goodman have already written on the subject of sonic hauntology, a movement that the Caretaker has been associated with. Summarily, sonic hauntology links music that harks back to the past with Derrida’s Spectres of Marx, where socio-political ideals such as Marxism still pervade our consciousness despite having been deemed as ‘failed’ in the annals of official history. In highlighting the vinyl crackles, Kirby brings forth a haze through which our memories or perceptions of the past can be refracted. I am reminded of how mist machines are used on stage or in clubs so that the colours of the lights can be seen; how light is revealed only through deliberate obscuration. So the question is, what does the Caretaker’s music, or Persistent Repetition, reveal?

The music of the album is a music of quotation, not just through its sampling of pre-existing music, but in how it appeals to the listener’s impressions of various subjects such as horror films, especially Kubrick’s The Shining, in which the caretaker is one of its main characters. Kirby’s liberal use of reverb brings to mind large, empty halls, creating a haunting quality. Spectrality in this instance is thus tied to spatiality. Kirby creates atmospheres that wrap around the listening subject, as opposed to most composer's aim of creating a music that attempts to penetrate the listening subject. It is an effective strategy – while attempting to transport the listener back to a past era, and hence making us aware of the notion of time, we also lose track of time due to the music’s drowsy pace.

Persistent Repetition functions both as music and sound design, and as is common practice with sound design for film and theatre, the music in Persistent Repetition is inextricably linked to a visual counterpart. And while sound design is almost always seen (or heard) as being at the service of the visual, Kirby complicates that by finding correlations between the visual and the aural, privileging neither; through the studio technologies of reverberation, retarded tempos, and vinyl hisses, he evokes corresponding visual elements – films eroded by time and saturated with nostalgia.

And so this is how Persistent Repetition works – because it does not posit a way out, instead creating paradoxes and relations through which one may get entranced or entrapped in – a parallel to the spectre existing in a liminal zone.

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