There’s a concept in politics called the Overton Window which represents the range of ideas that are deemed to be socially acceptable at a particular time and in a particular culture. These change over time according to social and cultural progress (or perhaps otherwise if we think about some of the discourse currently doing the rounds), and I’m sure that we can all think of examples of how these changes have unfolded.
I mention this because I feel that my musical tastes, even down to what I consider music to be, have also changed a great deal over the years; and if I look back at what I have listened to in the past that may be far away from what I am currently enjoying. Like the Overton Window there will be many reasons for this. But one of the things that I have noticed, especially since I began writing about music five years ago, is how much I have been prepared to take on music that I now may find challenging, that I previously would have found to be plainly inaccessible.
This is, to my mind, very much a good thing and the idea of stretching myself through listening to music can surely only be positive; and this album by Bart De Paepe is perhaps another step along that long and winding road. More than this, however, in exploring some of the music that he has put out on his Sloow Tapes label is exactly the sort of rabbit hole that I like to go down, and coming back from which can result in not so much an adjustment in the musical Overton Window but a paradigm shift. A change that has undoubtedly enabled me to come back to this album and listen to it in a different light.
Now this is all well and good but can I back it up by writing about it? Let’s see…
The album opens in a manner that it seems to me is quite destabilising… ‘Den Osschaert’ begins with the sort of oscillating sounds that you might equate with a lab scene in a kitsch sci-fi movie, yet the underlying brass accompaniment somehow adds to this and gives you a real feeling of unease… not in a suspenseful way but in a purposeful manner. This does not let up for its entire seven minutes laying down what seems to be a very definite challenge both to the senses and the intellect… this is not going to be something to take lightly.
After this shock to the system ‘De Wase Wolf’ initially sounds more soothing and less provocative, there is certainly beauty and depth to it. Get under its skin, however, and there is a darkness to this track which a more concerted listen uncovers; and which becomes more stark the more you listen to it.
By the time you get to ‘Het Woud Zonder Genade’ you are beginning to feel much more tuned into the album and I would argue that if you’re going to listen to this an immediate second listen is recommended to really get the most out of it. On the surface this track feels abstract and changeable in a way that feels difficult to find a way in. There doesn’t initially seem to be any eddys of music to hold on to… to me it felt like being in a room with an art installation wondering what the hell was going on. Then as you listen you begin to pick up the melodies that are contained within the sonic lattice work and then you get drawn in… you see it from the inside… which to me was like having a particular form of chaos running around in my head. Like ‘Den Osschaert’ there is a restlessness here, a thought process that does not seem to be able to calm itself. It’s not comfortable being in there, and it’s not comprehensible to me if you’re outside it… but listening to it does make me think in a specific way; and I’ve a feeling that this will be different every time I hear it.
After this ‘Bedmar’ is equally unsettling; like much of this album it seems slightly out of phase with my reality leading me to speculate about the relationship between reality and perception; which is an interesting thought given my initial comments in this piece. Perhaps that is what this is about… challenging perceptions… perhaps that’s obvious and I just hadn’t seen it until now. What I am feeling well over twenty minutes into this album is that my perceptions and thought patterns are changing and writing down how this music makes me feel in real time is proving to challenging prospect…
Which is why ‘Alvinclarvord’ comes as something of a relief. I suspect that if I had listened to this track first I would have found it in of itself to be quite radical… however, the first four tracks of ‘Pagus Wasiae’ have shifted my musical Overton Window to such an extent that this is feeling fairly mainstream as I listen to it. I like the dark melodies of this number as they waft over a ‘Kraut’ beat that gives it a cool laid back feel without ever tipping over into abstraction, and as it eases into ‘Synth Antonius’ I’m getting a real feeling of being inside something intense. Here the spacey synths add salve to mental strains caused by the earlier tracks. There’s a weird sense of being both inside and outside the space craft here… you can hear the instruments but also feel a sense of motion.
This segues into ‘Moerasson Van Der Gouw’ which very much feels like a track that has set the listener on a course and intends to leave them there. Here there is no sense of resolution or destination, rather a feeling of open ended infinity, of continuing with a journey that never ends. The repetitive and, in many ways, banal beats, clicks and drones serving to accentuate previous feelings of unease… perhaps even normalising them sending us off with a different and seemingly unadjustable trajectory. Our Overton Window changed forever.
This has been one of the most difficult albums that I have written about. It has been a challenge to listen to and put my thoughts down here. Whether I have done that successfully is probably for others to say. What I would say, though, that this album is one that is for me some sort of sonic mind gym. It is akin to music I have listened to before but it is a bit further down the road to inaccessibility than I have previously travelled. Whether you do too is clearly up to you, but I would suggest that in this age where the lowest common denominator rules you owe it to yourself to get challenged, listen to this album a few times and you will definitely feel that and, actually, you’re probably going to feel a lot better for it.