Seeking refuge in Great Britain in the last years of his life, German writer W.G. Sebald dedicated the better part of his time strolling along the coastline of the county of Suffolk. While wandering, he let his mind drift off, remembering the past with melancholy and criticism. From his new home, Sebald could look at the continent that had worried him so and had caused so much pain since the second World War, and he could fantasise about an alternative history for Europe. He re-created shipwrecks, remembered great men like Joseph Conrad and Chateaubriand, and from those meditations came “ The Rings of Saturn” (1995) - a book that is at once an essay, a collection of stories and a poem, which could have landed him the Nobel Prize. He never got it; like his admired Borges, Sebald is part of the club of great writers, the most significant and relevant of the 20th century, who were never vindicated by awards.
“Patience (After Sebald)” is a documentary by Grant Gee that shows the violent Suffolk coast and re-creates Sebald's walks, while at the same time taking a good look at the author. It's not just another film about a cult writer (and there have been a few of those in recent years - about Henry Darger, Hunter S. Thompson or William Gibson, for example); it manages the difficult task of shedding light on the words through images. But what interests us most, in this case, is the music, because it's not just another soundtrack. James Kirby, or rather, The Caretaker, composed (or maybe he has recovered them from his personal archive) a total of twelve pieces. The director's choice is an obvious one; Sebald and Kirby are connected by an invisible thread. While Sebald has memory and solitude as his main themes, the bitter recollection of a time that could have been good but ended badly, the same could be said about Kirby - his music embarks on a desperate search for moments of pure happiness in an ocean of blurred memories. In other words, Sebald works on a macro level (his pain is about Western civilisation, its Nazi trauma, his cries are for a great Europe falling apart), while Kirby's universe is limited to a childhood betrayed by unfulfilled promises of progress, extending into an adulthood - chaotic and erratic – with seemingly little room for hope amongst the bankruptcies and bad girlfriends.
Kirby's music is capable of expressing Sebald's mind because he understands it. With these twelve tracks, he also illustrates it: once more, Kirby creates that dream-like bubble, grainy, with static noise and trembling melodies, which we have heard so many times on his records and read in his titles (each one is an epitaph and a declaration of principles: “ A Last Glimpse Of The Land Being Lost Forever”, “ Everything Is In The Point Of Decline”, etc.). However, for a title signed as The Caretaker, there is a significant variation from his past works, specifically “Persistent Repetition Of Phrases” (2008) and the recent “An Empty Bliss Beyond This World” (2011) - the record with which he, after twelve years of trying, finally seems to have convinced a wider audience. That variation is the sparse use of vocals and an increase of painful textures. On “Patience (After Sebald)” there is more noisy ambient and less samples of old shellac records - less popular music filtered through diffuse memories and less dance salon or music box melodies - and there is more, much more piano. “I ncreasingly Absorbed In His Own World”, “ When The Dog Days Were Drawing To An End”, “Isolated Lights On The Abyss Of Ignorance”, “ A Last Glimpse Of The Land Being Lost Forever” and “T he Homesickness That Was Corroding Her Soul” are all pieces with Kirby on piano (he plays - if it's him - like an aspiring concert pianist on a pleasure cruise, like some kind of post-ironic Richard Clayderman), always embellished with static noise and the wear of time.
At the same time, there are also pieces that sound like they've been taken from Leyland Kirby's hypothetical religious album. For example, “ Now The Night Is Over And The Dawn Is About To Break” sounds like a distorted Ligeti choir, a requiem sung on the shore of a furious sea, far away, interrupted by the wind and the waves. The voices appear at the end of the record - almost absent on the rest of the album, in favour of the piano - and they are voices of pain, rather than ghosts of the past. What is always there is the atmosphere, full of electricity and incurable pain. If you've heard enough of Kirby, it could be identified more with the fickle landscapes of “Eager To Tear Apart The Stars” (2011) than with the beautiful, never venomous, hauntology of The Caretaker. “Patience (After Sebald)” sounds like a commissioned piece the British musician has had to work on outside of his chosen path. Though still carrying all of his traces, it involuntarily breaks with the dramatic progression he had been working on for The Caretaker, with the climax of desperation Leyland Kirby was pointing towards. This makes the record (for now, only available on vinyl) a work of minor importance within a great trajectory, although perhaps a point of inflection that will cause him to make more use of the piano. What we can't agree with is the opinion of John Elliott, via Twitter, who suggests Kirby is releasing too much - alluding to the five titles released in 2011 and this first one in 2012 (it seems like a paradox that a member of Emeralds, one of the most prolific releasing projects of recent years, should tell others how much material they should or shouldn’t release). We don't agree: records as acutely profound as this are scarce.