Indignant Senility Indignant SenilityPlays Wagner
Even if you aren’t fascinated by opera, you might easily like Wagner: his music, as has already been recorded in official historiography, was another cog in the wheels of total art, and all of his works were designed as an all-round spectacle of theatre, high literature and (as was required in romanticism) an exaltation of the medieval period and national values. But beyond its irreplaceable, privileged position in the history of classical music, Richard Wagner can be listened to today in another way, very far from how he is listened to in the closed, impenetrable circles of academic culture. He can be seen as a forerunner of the film soundtrack –with Wagner the orchestral mass is often descriptive, pre-impressionistic, accentuating the action and not the narrative per se – as well as being (why not?) the first forefather of ambient. Some histories of all-enveloping music, beginning with “The Ambient Century” (2000), by Mark Prendergast, locate the first moment in Gustav Mahler’s mature symphonies, because the sound seemed to want to disintegrate in them, to disappear into a small vortex of silence. But this aspect of Mahler was already present in Wagner: music as a flow of often-neutral notes and cadences, a discreet underlining of what was happening on stage, without any intention of interrupting the action. Music as furniture, as it would later be defined by Satie.
All of this is pertinent because Indignant Senility –alias of the disquieting Pat Maherr, from Portland (Oregon), the dark ambient underground figure– focuses on the figure of Wagner starting from the possibility that many of the scenes of his operas leave: that of music as stuffy air, as a disturbing surrounding, an atmosphere that can be removed from its context and updated in a reading as toxic as it is nostalgic. A year ago, Maherr burst into the record stores in his town and took home all of the records with Wagner recordings in stock; he sampled fragments, and once his selection was made, he let them dry in the sun, waiting patiently for them to crack and take on a sepia tone, then he passed them to a cassette tape that also underwent a long process of audio deterioration, until it became what you hear now: an unbreathable mantra of granular noise and the intuition that underneath there are some chords stolen from “Lohengrin” or “Tannhäuser.” Few heard that tape, but one of them landed on the Type label’s table, and John Twells’ astute mind and quick reflexes—we know that this man likes disturbing ambient better than Mickey Rourke likes the smell of feet—are what brought this project to us, first on two records that are already way sold-out, and now on a CD that brings together all of this overwhelming travel to the centre of darkness.
Type must be thanked for passing the audio from the magnetic strip to vinyl and the CD so faithfully—in the background there is a weight of dirty, static noise that Indignant Senility had considered part of the final work. It took time to record the definitive music from cassette to cassette so that the sound would deteriorate and have that infernal texture that adds so much personality and distinction to the final result. And this interest in the natural disintegration of the music is what makes this “Plays Wagner” very close to the great master of loops that fade away both in the real and surreal –or interior– planes of memory. Yes, Indignant Senility is, in this case, an advanced student of William Basinski, more than Ekkehard Ehlers, and the album’s eleven pieces–without a title, without a list of sources, without a plot—evoke an old, lost period that cannot be recovered, a medieval locus amoenus that is not as amenable as it seems at first sight. Wagner is only the excuse: his chords facilitate finding the texture, but what is important about Maherr is how well he pulls the strings of melancholy. Are we talking about “hauntology” here? Keeping in mind that the work process is very similar to that of The Caretaker (replacing ballroom dance music with opera overtures and interludes recorded in mono on cheap vinyl) ,it would not be inappropriate to classify this album in that way, also equidistant from Kevin Drumm’s dark ambient monochrome.
“Plays Wagner” produces more cold than heat. It is beautiful music, but at a distance: close, intimate listening with your headphones well placed on your head cannot be said to be pleasurable. It creates a bubble of isolation, but not of security; its thermostat is uncertain, as the sensations that it produces are both threatening and protective. If we understand it that way, then this imposing piece from Indignant Senility, outside of its limited group of friends could be like the fourth CD lacking in Leyland Kirby’s “Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was.” This would make the logical transition from nostalgic resignation to catastrophe, as what you see from here is a black sky and the ground covered with ashes. What we see from here is, logically, the decline of man. Javier Blanquez