Christoph Heemann’s and Timo Van Luijk’s latest offering on Robot Records is a frustrating combination of expected, quiet beauty and unexpected experimentation.
Open Air is musical moonshine; it was recorded live and out doors, by the light of the moon, presumably for a small group of friends. The entirety of the album consists of many of the elements expected from this duo: slow, low-end drones; a counterpoint of high, slightly metallic rustlings; and just a smattering of odd percussive sounds or otherwise out-of-place errata. Just a few elements and a bit patience yields an undeniably gorgeous record that scares up equal parts paranoia and reverence. When the sounds are worked up into an intensity of any sort, Heemann and Van Luijk smartly provide a lull and introduce new or slightly altered elements in order to keep the mix dynamic. There’s nothing dull about their process nor the resulting music, but there’s a level of predictability to this group’s music that’s difficult to ignore. Fans of Mirror and other like-minded groups may be able to grasp the scope of this album within their imagination and thus plot out its course before even hearing the first minute.
The album begins with a hushed drone, a sudden thud, and with the sounds of laughter or conversation evident in the background. This is the only indication that the album has any live element to it whatsoever and it lasts only seconds. Over two long tracks, In Camera builds up rumbling soundscapes and understated howls that move gently back and forth. The second song features several sections where the instrumentation employed to make all this sound is almost identifiable; I hear a Japanese flute and perhaps a pump organ winding into each other seamlessly, perhaps a detuned guitar string being teased slowly, too. Yet, the music remains alien and disconnected from the real world. By the time the record has ended Open Air, like the best drone records, has transported you somewhere else and induced amnesia. The sound stops and then all the sound in the room returns to claim dominance.
This album is being released in multiple formats with multiple additions to entice the collector: the first 88 copies of the 400 CDs pressed come with a bonus CDR of music recorded live on Dutch radio. The 105 copies of the 2xLP version feature a bonus disc with solo pieces from both Heemann and Luijk. If In Camera’s output is somewhat predictable, the bonus CD containing the VPRO performance more than makes up for that fact. It begins much like the first song from Open Air but quickly establishes itself as a unique entity. Heemann and Luijk break their minimalist habits a bit and inject their frozen tones with more activity than is usual. The patient craftsmen that they are, they slowly build monstrous cascades of sound that are far more imposing than what’s featured on the record proper. There are instrumental passages that sound as though Ravi Shankar might’ve been part of the group and, better yet, there are mammoth stretches of slightly more distorted noise that really fill out In Camera’s sometimes limited sound. Hearing plucked strings and the dulcimer on this performance turned In Camera’s drone work into something much, much more exciting and much more expansive. I find myself spending more time with this disc and enjoying it for its more extensive palette.
Open Air is a fine record, but I desire something extra from Heemann and Luijk. I want to be surprised and taken by the music instead of knowing what to expect, but enjoying it nonetheless. Other collaborations featuring Heemann are exemplary examples of just how pliable and exciting drone records can be; his work with Merzbow comes immediately to mind. For the time being, I’m pleased with what has become this duo’s specialty, but I’m hoping to see them move into new territory in the future. If they can do it on VPRO, then surely they can do it on record.