Troum & All Sides // Shutûn // Old Europa Café // 2006
Genre: Dark Ambient, Drone, Tape Music
One of the best and worst parts of being born post-Generation-X is the responsibility of sorting through a constant influx of information that is often irrelevant and/or undesirable. The wealth of human knowledge is more accessible now than ever, and our pursuit to expand it to unprecedented heights continues with every passing moment, but for everyday citizens, this comes at a cost. While it is accessible, it can be unavoidable; while it is consumable, it can be poisonous. In order to effectively absorb information one must be able to process it. It’s easy for me to forget just how much data I process every day because it’s all I’ve ever known. I was born in 1992, after all. It’s only when I come across something so sensory stimulating that it coerces me to dedicate my entire attention to it that I fully understand just how beautifully delicate the process of learning is. This doesn’t happen to me very often and I don’t always have time for it, but occasionally it comes at such a random time and I am so taken aback by it that I can’t help but to wonder if it was divine intervention that is toying with me or if I accidentally fell into a rabbit hole a few years back and slowly tumble a little further down every once in a while. This has happened to me twice in the past month: once after a 300-yard sprint to my car during torrential downpour and the second at 20 minutes and 28 seconds into this album. I’ll skip the first one as I’d prefer to keep the ironic satisfaction of a near spiritual revelation during a rainstorm to myself, but the second is up in the air and probably requires a bit of explaining.
I’ve loved ambient music for a really long time now. It’s become a part of me and I gladly will share it with anyone who has the capacity to understand it and take from it. It has the potential to teach if you possess the desire to learn. It’s only music after all, but I thank it for my appreciation of the world’s subtleties and blame it for my ongoing dissatisfaction with my present state and perpetual yearning to squeeze more from even life’s most basic processes. This has lead me to seek out music that requires effort and work to fully understand and appreciate; those are two things I don’t mind doing for two things I don’t mind having—Fair trade.
Any seasoned veteran will tout the necessity of solid, consistent atmosphere in ambient music, but seldom do those same people understand why it is necessary: the listener has nothing else to go off of. Often there are few or no lyrics to tell you what the music is about or divert you from its hidden messages, and there is little rhythm to notate the intensity at which the meaning [or lack thereof] is directed. It’s similar to deconstructing an old memory by dismissing the people and places and closely examining the one thing that remains: atmosphere. Atmospheres exist around us at all times: the danger of a robbery, the tension of a breakup, the comfort of a lover, the mundanity of a morning commute. Everything gives off a distinct aura that can be uniquely experienced by anyone who stumbles into it, but only those keen in nature will find themselves fully experiencing these moments in or over time. With Shutûn, Troum & All Sides have covered a lot of ground and created an aural well so huge you could swim in it, so delectable you could drink it, and so deep you could drown in it.
Shutûn crafts a dark, brooding, intense, yet simultaneously dense and heavy atmosphere that gives the single 54 minute song some serious weight. The album can effectively be split into three parts: the first, a distant repetitious synth pattern overlaid with a sizable organ crescendo that continuously swells heavily back and forth, eventually building up so much pressure it teeters on the edge of combustion; the second, a dark, industrial-esque channel that tunnels in and out of passages reminiscent of a sinking ship or decomposing rail lines, eventually building up to noise aligned more with full volume TV static during a panic attack; the third, a distant, comatose drone that is ironically held together by the continuous pounding of a heartbeat. After three minutes of a distorted vocal drone, the first passage comes into fruition with a repeating synth pattern and a meager drone that subtly pads the incoming organ. The organ eventually arrives, timid at first, but is fed and grows with each swell, eventually drowning out the original synth passage and exploding with ferocity several times towards the end of the passage, with the final pulsation at the 20 minute 28 second mark being the most intense. Each round of the organ breathes life into the atmosphere of the album, making headway for the quick transition into a much darker, colder second passage, which comes surprisingly soon after the final organ swell. As the final pulsation is laid to rest, a fuzzy synth arises to lay the track that the second passage will ride on. Its subtleties barely tickle the ears, but its strength proves resolute as it supports the incoming sounds, which are quickly fleeting but unmistakably haunting, never giving you enough to actually frighten you, but putting you on edge and heightening your senses. The rattling of pipe and scraping of metal becomes torturous over the course of the 18-minute passage, eventually culminating in a claustrophobic alleyway of white noise that does all but murder the atmosphere of the first passage. As the noisy end to the second passage dies out, a heartbeat restores life as the first passage rises from its ashes with a thumping bass on top of a cloudy synth. The heartbeat seems reliable, but skips a single beat towards the beginning of the final passage, inadvertently exposing its vulnerability and allowing the hazy synth to clear itself up and rise to prominence. As the synth continues to build, the bass holds steadfast under its weight as if it is the engine of a small aircraft in the middle of an uncompromising storm, fighting to make its way above the treacherous clouds. Eventually the bass flinches at the size of the synth and succumbs to its weight, allowing it to quickly soar through the remaining two minutes of the album, where its dramatic rattling transforms into a distant chord and eventually nothing at all.
Throughout the album, there is a degree of separation that remains present. Even in its most powerful sections, Shutûn feels like an impenetrable box where the only way for me to experience it it is to put my ear against it and press as hard as I can, hoping to gather all it has to offer, but the harder I pressed, the more distant the album became. It is only when I backed away that I realized what the content of the box truly was: atmosphere. It does not lie within it, but all around it, and in every part of it. It will always be inexplicably hidden to those who want to see it or feel it, but ineffably beautiful for those who take a step back and experience it. That, to me, is atmosphere.