Richard Chartier, Of Surfaces

Line
Released: 2002


     If you want to know what Richard Chartier's Of Surfaces sounds like--heck, if you want to know what ANY Richard Chartier disk sounds like--then imagine being at a club or a concert, music blaring at you at full volume for several hours. You try to talk to the person next to you, but she can't understand a word you're saying; she tries to talk to you, and you can't understand a word she's saying. The music is just all over the place. Then imagine suddenly leaving that noise-fest and being stuck in an isolation tank, with no sound, no outside information (be it visual, aural, or whatever)--nothing except you and your ears, your still-ringing-from-all-the-damn-noise ears. What you hear in that isolation tank is the residue of the concert, as though your ears just finished running a marathon and can't fully slow down and take a nap. That sensation--that echo of large, blasting sounds--is what you hear on Of Surfaces.
     To be absolutely honest, that's what you hear AT TIMES on Chartier's work, for, as anyone familiar with Chartier or the Line label or even the development of this ultra-minimal wing of the minimal wing of the experimental wing of electronic music, half of the point of the music is silence. The other half of the "point" is, of course, the interruption of that silence with sound so slight that you are not sure if it you are actually hearing it or not--and that's the part that sounds like your inner ear coming down from a musical overdose.
     There are those who love Chartier, Bernhard Gunter, and the other proponents of this radical silence, and there are many who don't even consider this music to be music at all, but rather a sham, a waste of $15. I can't honestly say that I fall into either of these two groups, though I will admit to having purchased just about every disk on the Line label (the label Chartier and Taylor Deupree started as an offshoot of 12k), and I've enjoyed most of the music--yes, music--on those releases, including Of Surfaces. There's something unusually haunting about music that you're not sure is actually there. There's something about the idea of a music that requires one to pay attention--slow, careful attention--in order to even HEAR it that is oddly appealing to me. Perhaps it's the sheer slowness of the music, a slowness that acts as a direct counterpoint to just about everything else in modern life, that makes me instantly gravitate to this kind of music. Perhaps it's just the fact that I like art that has patience and artists who manage to express ideas and emotions with the fewest materials possible. Or perhaps the reason I like this music is because Richard Chartier finds a way to make nothing sound like something special.
     All you hear on the 26-odd minutes that comprise the title track of Of Surfaces is silence, a faint, slowly-building, warbling tone (very low, very deep). The tone creeps up and gets louder at certain moments, and then recedes into silence at other moments. There is no uniformity here--the creeping and receding follow no consistent pattern. In fact, the lack of pattern here is what makes a track like this interesting, as, if you knew what to expect, you probably wouldn't listen as carefully during the silent patches. And, yes, there are silent patches here--patches where, as far as I can tell, there is no sound emanating from my stereo whatsoever. But those patches are generally brief, and the silence is continually broken up with the faintest hint of a tone, followed by a more persistent and stronger tone. Every now and then, on the title track and especially on final track, "Composition," there will be an intercession of noise--real, certifiable sound that emerges from the background hum, blasts out (or softly sputters out), and then disappears back into the force of the silence or of the propulsive hum. In some ways, when I listen to this disk, I hold on, waiting for those moments, for, when they arrive, they're as unexpected and as exhilarating as the thousands of aberrant noises you hear on most other electronic disks.
     Do I listen to Richard Chartier every day? No. Do I listen to Richard Chartier when I'm watching TV? No. Do I listen to Richard Chartier in the car? No--what's the point? Do I listen to Richard Chartier at all? Yes, I do. In fact, I find his music perfectly suited to quiet settings, when I'm writing or reading or just daydreaming. This is not music for everyone, but those tired of the same, old, repetitive electronic disks that are reviewed here and elsewhere might want to give Chartier a listen. The man releases a ton of music, and this is only one of about four or five of his releases from 2001 (it came out in December), and, while there's a definite similarity in his work, Of Surfaces, for some reason, resonates more strongly in my mind than some of his previous work, and, for that reason, I'd recommend this disk to anyone who might want to take a strange walk on the "silent" side.

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