Joaoventuraobvio

In March this year, James Kirby released the sixth and final installment of his album series Everywhere At The End Of Time. Like all the work released under ‘The Caretaker’ moniker, Kirby utilises samples from pre-war ballroom jazz records, embedding it in a retrospective outlook that sits at odds with the icy futurist roboticism that so many contemporary ambient artists strive for in the quest for a ‘modern’ sound. At a glance, you could label Kirby’s music as having the same ‘post-modern’ sensibilities of vaporwave; there’s no denying that Kirby foregrounds his relation to the musical past just as fervently as his purple-hazed, Kana-clad counterparts. Yet where vaporwave prides itself on nostalgia, on conjuring sounds and visuals that long for a time enveloping our younger selves, Kirby’s appropriation of aged aesthetics tends to have a far more unnerving agenda.

 

The opening of his breakthrough album, 2011’s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, displays the unease characteristic of Kirby’s work in the transition between ‘Libet’s Delay’ and ‘I Feel As If I Might Be Vanishing’. Whilst the former maintains its jaunty, optimistic tone despite its cloud of muddying distortion, this optimism is rendered obsolete by the haunting despondency of the latter, whose pained string section is barely able to bat away the persistent drone of an amplifier and the crackle of vinyl.

 

This structure, writ large, is the format of Everywhere At The End Of Time. All the tracks in stages 1-3 stay recognisable forms of their original samples and it’s only as we start to push the two-hour mark that the vinyl crackles begin to show. This self-imposed stylistic debt is no cynical jab for nostalgia akin to Postmodern Jukebox’s vintage-reworked pop. Neither, however, does Kirby ever allow us to be situated in an era familiar to us. These aren’t the recordings of Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday, these are songs that the passage of time has rendered discarded, forgotten. Well, not quite forgotten; their re-animated form casts us in the uncomfortable role of time-travelling voyeur, as if taking a peek inside someone else’s long-lost memory.

 Everywhere… suffers in its reliance on our morbid fascination at human mortality, without any of its underlying humanity. 

The self-examination of this voyeurism is something that as a listener, one would hope the series’ is conscious of, though accusations of Kirby romanticizing a terminal illness prove hard to knock when his liner notes liken the early onset of dementia to a “beautiful daydream”. Writing for Pitchfork in his review of 2016’s Stage 1, Brian Howe incisively begged the question of “why should we want to experience dementia by proxy, aesthetically, or even think that we can?”. Where An Empty Bliss… evoked abstract notions of past and memory by keeping its subjects at arms-length, Everywhere… suffers in its reliance on our morbid fascination at human mortality, without any of its underlying humanity. We stand staring at a diorama of a car-crash, safe in the knowledge that it’s an artistic creation.

Alzheimer’s, coincidently, runs in the female side of my family. My great-grandma had it. My grandma had it. My mother masks her own discomfort at the possibility of a diagnosis by making light of its effects; she attributes casual instances of forgetfulness to its onset and recalls her mother’s whimsical habit of putting shoes in the fridge. Still, this doesn’t dispel worries that her short-mindedness will one day be a symptom not an exception, nor the story of my grandma opening the door of a moving car. Kirby’s starry-eyed song titles are similarly ineffectual when confronted with the disease itself.

Its final five minutes demonstrates the commitment to aesthetics over realism. 

It is in stages 4-6, when the pretence of documenting the degenerative process gives way to the degeneration itself, that the series finds firmer footing. Gone is any lingering sense of kitsch, compositions are now harsh and abrasive. But ironically, by resorting to the complete immolation of his original samples, Kirby returns to icy futurism that had been the counterpoint to his work. Its final five minutes demonstrates the commitment to aesthetics over realism, when an admittedly beautiful choral sample following an hour of static contravenes the series’ guiding concept of gradual decay. Kirby presumably does this to avoid an anticlimactic end to his series, conveniently passing over the lack of an aestheticized end to real dementia.

It’s here that we see the place of the series’ creation in its refusal to engage with the kind of oblivion that death really entails. Beyond any sense of commemoration, or even empathy, its primary concern is fear. There is no doubt that in setting finite parameters to the series, Kirby has created a potent sense of dread at its end, never before listening to a piece of music have I been so keenly aware of its finite nature. Nevertheless, Everywhere… still finds itself more interested in the destruction of The Caretaker persona than the pain that accompanies real human destruction.

Sponsored links