When you land on Eklin’s Bandcamp you’ll find meticulous, calm and warm sounds bursting with pristine melodies from nature. We asked Michiel from Eklin to curate a five-track playlist based on the four classical elements: earth, water, air and fire. In some cultures, there’s also the fifth element: “the void”. Sway away with the most soothing tracklist you’ll ever listen to.
‘Fire Music’ is a term coined by jazz musician Archie Shepp when he gave his 1965 LP this title. It is now used to describe a kind of free jazz which is less based on music theoretics, less from the head, but more from the guts, and in Shepp’s case with a radical political statement. Fire Music is trying to reach some kind of ecstatic transcendence through music as sound, freed from the boundaries of playing melodies in key, conventional harmonies or steady rhythms. It’s about blowing your fucking lungs out. It was actually saxophonist and bandleader Albert Ayler who spilt out some of the most convincing fire music ever created. His compositions grew out of overly familiar themes taken from nursery rhymes and marching music into the most intense free jazz you’ll ever hear. By doing this he alienated both free jazz purists and people who are used to more “conventional” popular music, but he also created a piece of universal music that really resonates.
My introduction to William Basinski was the Disintegration Loops series, where he created loops out of decaying tapes that contained decades old compositions from his own hand. While digitising these compositions he noticed that the old tapes were falling apart during playback. When creating the loop compositions this “disintegration” effect affected the course of the composition. Of course, this kind of compositional process was not new. Alvin Luciers’ “I Am Sitting in a Room” from 1970 is a famous example. But there’s something about Basinski’s melancholic sounds that’s just… beautiful beyond comparison. There’s also a background story where the Disintegration Loops are linked to 9/11, which I think is a shame because I could do without the outside world, projecting images on this timeless music. Basinski also released an album called Water Music, and that title is spot on. Cascade is a fairly recent piece and one of his best. It’s 40 minutes long and builds around a piano phrase. As with most of his work, it’s loop-based, static and ever-changing at the same time, creating a vacuum where time does not exist. Hearing a loop for 40 consecutive minutes really does something to your body and mind. I guess some people take a bath to reach this state, I listen to Basinski.
Cocteau Twins formed in 1979, but the heavenly chiming guitars of Robin Guthrie and the ethereal vocals of Elizabeth Fraser, both drenched in reverb and delay, still sound otherworldly beautiful today. When I looked up the exact definition of ethereal: ‘extremely delicate and light in a way that seems not to be of this world’, I found the perfect description for this very special band. They started out more goth but found their own niche on the 1984 LP Treasure. Fraser uses wordless vocals in a lot of songs, or some kind of made up words, that seem to dance in the sky. It’s hard to describe, just listen to the song “Pandora (For Cindy)” and you’ll know what I mean. The absence of written/spoken language in music is very important to me. To cut loose from rational explanations, without falling into the absurd. Moreover, Fraser (just like Kate Bush) was such an important force in liberating female vocals in pop music. Plus the music and production by Guthrie and bassist/keyboard player Simon Raymonde are just so beautiful and sophisticated.
My mother is really into palm reading. She can tell from my hands that I’m an “earth person”. Although that’s hardly surprising, it’s still an important, if only symbolic, confirmation for me. Some of my favourite artists deal with imaginary land on their records: Brian Eno’s Another Green World and Ambient 4: On Land; Cocteau Twins’ Victorialand. But I feel “Negativland” from Neu!’s eponymous first album is the best addition to this exploration of the natural elements. Neu! is famous for introducing the motorik drumbeat and for their stark, minimalist, clean, repetitive and mostly instrumental sound. They’ve had a huge impact on countless bands and artists that followed, myself included. As the title indicates, this track is dark. Whilst I don’t see myself as a negative person, I can not really relate to the concept of a utopia and this is reflected in my musical taste. “Negativland” is also built around an indestructible bassline. This is what I like in dub and in a lesser degree in funk and hip hop. Unlike on a lot of rock records, the bass guitar is not only there to provide the guitar chords with some extra low end, the bass guitar guides and leads. Other instruments and sounds can move freely on this foundation. In this case a heavily processed almost atonal guitar. Treated with distortion and flanging effects, the guitar delivers precise stabs of sharp chords and rhythmic patterns, creating an almost unbearable tension. “Negativland” is obviously patched together in the studio and that’s also where a lot of my own songs and compositions reach their final state. In my case, the mixing studio is my computer, where I can easily cut, paste and modify musical elements I recorded, to create a fresh perspective. To detach oneself from the music and to prevent navel-gazing.
Around ten years ago, when the first incarnation of Eklin started playing, I got interested in the idea of removing myself from the music I created. I started working with a set-up that consisted of multiple, broken tape-decks and a few effect pedals that would generate feedback loops, so when I turned on these machines they would create their own music. I found out later that Nurse With Wound did something similar on his 1988 album Soliloquy for Lilith, of course with much better results. I can’t remember exactly where this obsession came from. It probably had something to do with the terrifying amounts of ego present in the music industry, and the struggle with my own ego, but also with an LP entitled Storage, by New Zealanders K-Group / Omit. It’s an instrumental drone record from 2002, with relatively short tracks, roughly between three and seven minutes, containing super minimal soundscapes created by analogue synthesizers. All seven tracks conjure hyperintense scenes of abandoned landscapes, or “zones without people”. To me it sounds like landscapes that humans used to inhabit before they became extinct, leaving behind ruins that fell victim to the natural elements. The only survivors are faltering machines that hum and crackle. Their presence makes the emptiness all the more intense.
Eklin is performing at Eartheater at s105 (De School), Amsterdam on 2 May. Free for Subbacultcha members.