Die Stadt

It happens very rarely, but there comes a time in life when you encounter something that rewrites most of the rules you’ve been following until then, pointing you in a different direction and sending you down a whole new existential path. In 1999, after many years of listening to and writing about drone-based music, Die Stadt boss Jochen Schwarz introduced me to the first two LPs by Mirror, Eye of The Storm (Streamline 1999) and Ringstones (Some Fine Legacy 1999) which instantly flipped the switch of a completely new light, arriving as they did in my life at a time when noise – unbearable noise – was predominant. Mirror began when Christoph Heemann and Andrew Chalk decided to join forces after being active on the experimental/drone/avant scene for many years. Heemann was the leader of HNAS, one of the best post-Faust ensembles to come out of Germany, whose music is chock full of geniality and the kind of corrosive quirks you’d never associate with what he ended up doing, but the first intimations of what would become Mirror can be detected in his many collaborative projects – among them, with Seclusion, John Duncan, Organum, Current 93, Mimir – but above all in his wonderful solo albums Invisible Barrier (Extreme 1993), Aftersolstice (Barooni 1994) and Days Of The Eclipse (Barooni 1997). Andrew Chalk started his path with Ferial Confine, but his first glories came for his participation in the Ora project, which included many collaborators, the most important being Colin Potter, Darren Tate and Jonathan Coleclough; he too had been involved with Organum and already worked with a lot of illustrious companions like Daisuke Suzuki, Michael Northam, Ralf Wehowsky, Eric Lanzillotta and The New Blockaders, while also releasing the gorgeous Over The Edges (Streamline 1999). Though thoroughly taken with the first two steps into the sacred temple of inner resonance these artists had built after years of unconventional meditations, I was nevertheless not prepared for the ear-opening lesson of Front Row Centre (Die Stadt 2000), another limited edition vinyl complete with (as usual) handmade artwork insert signed by the artists. I instantly realized that this music was a revelation in my understanding of frequency colours and codes, and that a good 80 per cent of what I had previously described as “Deep Listening” music was just a fad – which I still believe is the case. Mirror have since released a lot of fantastic albums, as a duo or with illustrious guests (Jim O’Rourke, to name one), all worth of a place in your memory and in your collection – but this is The One. And it’s all the more important that people know Front Row Centre as the fulcrum of a constantly inspired collaboration that’s now sadly come to an end, since Heemann and Chalk unexpectedly severed relations in 2005.

It begins in complete silence. Very gradually a mass of harmonic stillness, what could be a hundred-note chord, fades in, unhurried movements of internal particles and shifting vibrations revealing a multitude of layers which the ear associates with the bowed strings of many guitars, reverberation from inside a piano, a church organ, or a gently caressed gong. Or so I believe, since Heemann and Chalk make a point of never revealing their sources. This majestic infinite chord grows its intensity VERY slowly, its muffled clangour becoming the sum of many voices of invisible creatures that until then had been forgotten in anonymity, now finally able to see the light after years of existence under the surface. When the music reaches the highest grade on the Richter scale of emotional tension, Mirror suddenly bring the mix down abruptly, lowering the overall volume until the hypnotic tapestry is barely perceived. And it all starts again. The lights of an imaginary periphery are seen from afar, like the flickering of a million fireflies, and a deep pain, coming from the realization of something so beautiful that it can’t be put into words, firmly grips the stomach. We’re left alone to contemplate the conscious alteration of our mind. The first time I played this I remained completely still, except for a moment when I wandered over to the window to watch a passing aeroplane whose fabulous rumble had captured my attention, before realizing it was one of the drones coming from the speakers. A simple event that made me feel, for lack of a better word, inadequate. Heemann and Chalk’s fantastic agglomerates of pure subterranean vibe, filtered by frequency cutoffs and flanging, undulate in breathtaking glissandos before finally reaching their apex in emotional “Oms” which infiltrate our very essence, on and on, an infinite loop of awareness. It could be a nightmare for those who think that a didjeridoo, a rain stick and some spacky Tibetan sample can fulfil the spirit while fattening a bank account, but for those few who still believe in the basic principles of development for the functional human being, Front Row Centre belongs on the famous desert island. And since the vinyl edition is now long out of print and crackles under the weight and intensity of Mirror’s prayer – nearly an hour’s worth of music compressed into two sides stresses the grooves a bit – I’ve been reciting my own little mantra for years now. Front Row Centre on CD. Front Row Centre on CD.

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