Getting older is a great thing. It makes you take notice of things and, as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed something particularly intriguing about the people I am surrounded by, in both a literal and figurative sense.
They are increasingly creative and productive people.
I mean this in two senses:
On the one hand I notice that the people who I’ve known for a long time are doing more and more creative and interesting things with their time. They’re writing stories, blogs and plays. They’re taking amazing photos, making films, appearing on TV even. I’ve seen a lot of these people sprawled on the floor, multiple sheets to the wind. They’re the same people, but doing great things.
On the other hand I find that the people who I meet anew, those who are coming unbidden but welcome into my life, are generally of the creative bent also. I feel that this is because I am in the luxurious position of being older, less interested in being popular, and therefore more choosy in my acquaintances. Also, they are generally friends of the few dear friends I have maintained for many years, so they come pre-checked, as it were.
One shining example of this new phenomena is a fellow that I’ve never met. Never even spoken to but, through the miracle that is the web, have conversed at length and find him a thoroughly decent cove. I am moreover so moved by his own creative output as to note my feelings of being exposed to someone’s inspiration, the creative results and the onward feelings that this has inspired in me.
Zoon van Snook’s ‘The Bridge Between Life and Death’ is an album of many facets. It is a technical maelstrom of bleeps, tweets, chirps and beats, with exceptional production and mixing underpinning it all, such that the production is incidental to the listening. It is clearly the result of the assemblage and usage of great numbers of electrical devices, the like of which I could only raise an eyebrow and scratch my head at – so, hats off there too. But that is, to my mind, incidental also.
There is always something of the mystery about electronic music. Something alchemical. Something that makes me think of Eno-esque characters locked, wide-eyed in windowless rooms, with banks of keyboards and twiddle-desks piled to the ceiling. For all I know that is true, but I don’t know at all, and I care even less. The proof of the pudding is in the eating after all.
What this piece of work actually is, what it has actually achieved, is to move beyond the complexity of its creation and become something in and of itself. It is an act, a decisive mark made in the firmament of consideration and appreciation. It has set down in musical form nothing less than an emotional landscape for the listener to enter and to explore. It is the literal creation of space in which one can travel, not knowing exactly what will be around the next corner but feeling safe in the knowledge that, on the evidence of the last corner, that you will want to go there.
Assembled from a collection of recordings and created sounds, overlaid, built upon and reduced in turn, this is a place one would want to wallow for the longest time. An inspired place. Inspired by life lived, for better or for worse, sorrows and joys treated equally, and set out for that inspiration to be inherited by the listener as they take their own journey, using the album as a backdrop to whatever thoughts and dreams are in one’s own head.
Talking about individual tracks, presuming to walk through the album for another person, is not I think a valuable process. Where the individual gets lifted and taken atop the music is a personal thing and not for another to drive. However, it is impossible to talk about this album without mentioning its structure, creation and execution in a progressive start-to-finish sense.
Opening with a direct injection into the brain of Nordic atmosphere, like one has walked into a fisherman’s hut on a cold winter’s evening and found a welcome crowd of people tuning traditional instruments. The set-up is to ready you for what is to come, an unashamed and undisguised love letter to the majesty and simple beauty of the icily calm and yet unpredictable volatility of Iceland. The influence, greedily absorbed and infused throughout the album, is in places joyous to the point of tears. Track after track, all but one in what is by any measurement a single outpouring, envelops into this otherworld. To embody so completely the love for a place is something I have never known. To do so with such musical aplomb is an act of some level of genius.
Tripping pizzicato, humming beats and lilting horns carry you along, interspersed with snippets of conversation, the rushes of air, the smell of the sea, the sulphur on the breeze. There are no moments that break the flow, no angles that catch your sleeve, no uneven surfaces to cause the stride to falter. Even the standout moment The Verge of Winter, with it’s musical buildup of sedimentary layers taking one to the point of collapse, manages not to allow the remaining 25 minutes to be a downhill ride.
To say that this is an inspired artistic moment seems a gross understatement, as the geography and the artists that have gone before and been driven by Iceland before are clearly present here. What Snook has managed to do however is to elevate beyond these, by not only being respectful, but by not being cowed and humbled into maintaining the position of lowly admirer. He has stood tall and proud and done so by being creative and inspired, without margin and without pause.
There is little more inspiring than that.