Ambient Music

Robert Worby – Factitious Airs (2021; Persistence of Sound) – Avant Music News


Let me start off by saying that if anyone wants to delve into a great stealth explainer on the general theories and concepts of Pierre Schaeffer, then electronic music / sound artist Robert Worby’s website might be your golden ticket.  I say “stealth” because the knowledge he drops is done in a refreshingly un-academic way.  There is nary a mention of Schaeffer himself or, for that matter the malodorous smell of gilded leather chairs, pipe tobacco, or a bottle of Croizet Cognac Cuvée Léonie 1858 served in a tulip-shaped glass straight from the cellars of your fave ivory tower.  I like to call this, “the street Pierre” version of Schaefferian theory and the reading is quite painless (perfect for yours truly).  A little Pierre won’t hurt anyone.  Recommended right here.

Ok, now the album…Worby’s music shares that same refreshing quality as his writing, i.e., accessible to casual listens but devils (hell, maybe even demons) are in the details.  On the surface, none of his writing has that “deadly serious” aspect to it, it appears to me that it is written to, and for the public with the intent of educating.  I share that same feeling about his music. 

The music has elements of humor, a “slapstick” vibe paired with the occasional B-grade science fiction movie sort of thing.  But I say “on the surface” for a reason because, like his written essays, underneath the surface there is some heavy creative lifting going on.  His approach to distilling down unusual subject matter (unusual, not necessarily difficult) makes it easy for the reader to “want” to know more…to kindle that spark of interest so to speak. 

Porting this over to music, an attentive listen will unearth much more than what is initially perceived on the surface.  Initially, the listener’s thoughts and perceptions might move in an obvious direction, the easy path of least resistance…a path that Worby cleverly leads the mind down.  For instance, that cheap science fiction sound or the slapstick malfunctioning Rube Goldberg-like machine that ends up clobbering the poor unsuspecting schmuck trying to operate it, or my personal favorite…the alien abduction and subsequent experiment on the cold metal operating slab.  Those appear to me as the “low hanging fruit”, or obvious conjurings visible to our superficial, surface-level perceptive abilities.  Thanks to our shared cultural upbringings, I would not be surprised if others (besides me) are reminded of the same tropes.

Take that next step though… and move to the “next” level of listening.  The cliché, “that next step is a doozie” may be apropos here.  Like his “plain language” essays on potentially weighty subjects, all these sound shenanigans have a whole lot more going on than meets the eye (or ear), and Worby is kind enough to provide a gilded invitation to explore.  I’d call it a rug pull if you choose to walk that crooked path.

With just a modicum of extra mental energy, Factitious Airs can transform itself into a “horse of a different color”.  If you allow your imagination even a little free rein the results can range from the beautifully abstract to a downright neural level brain implosion and subsequent re-assembling.

Worby’s use of “obsolete, abandoned technology” like shortwave radio transmissions, old tape machines, and antiquated sine wave oscillators shares some similarities to label mate Iain Chambers’ work with the vanishing sounds of old industry.  Worby’s sound seems more focused on the micro aspects of old tech vs. Chambers’ more macro, environmental approach.

A few examples stand out for me…

Exhibit A:  On the opening track, “Stumble Bum Junk Heap”-early listens…right, ok, sounds like a junk heap (or maybe that Rube Goldberg contraption).  Sounds great loud!  Subsequent listens…still sounds like a junk heap but wait, is that some sort of wet, viscous organic material mixed in with the rest of that metallic detritus?  Well, that certainly opened the mind to further, ummm…grotesqueries.  I’m running with it.

Exhibit B:  The track “Drawing the Nerves”-early listens…this is the track that had me thinking about alien abductions and their curiously painless invasive cranial investigations.  Subsequent listens…  Something about those split-second gated human utterances occurring at random durations, hmmm…do they have the ability (of course they must be organized the proper way as laid out by those ancient alien petroglyphs that just came through the Webb) to induce a population scale psychic event of unknown origin?  Yeah…they probably do!

Exhibit C:  The track “The Blind Momentum of Catastrophe”-early listens…well this doesn’t sound good for who, or whatever is in the path of this planet-sized avalanche.  Subsequent listens…the louder the better!  I began to ask myself what was inside this energy flow…what was the interior composed of.  I still don’t know because it’s different each time.  What I do know is, SOMETHING’S there, something very Phil Dick-ian…at least I think it is, it sure sounds Vast, Active, Living, and Intelligent…yeah, must be *shrugs*.

…and on it goes, a 50-minute, constantly morphing experiential feast of grand proportions.  Factitious Airs is a prime example of how effective acousmatic music can be to the cooperative listener.  Yes, the mind is a horrible thing to waste…but if you insist, this album will not only leave you IN the wasteland but, once you escape… you’ll most likely be returning many times.

Mike Eisenberg
[email protected]
Twitter:  @bigaudio999


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