Music Review: Jana Irmert - End of Absence

Music negotiating between the realities of the physical world and our imagination

Six electroacoustic compositions, built on field recordings, translucent textures, whispered and processed vocals and hints at rhythm. With the exception of a single short piece, all of these contributions were originally created by German sound designer and multimedia artist Jana Irmert as site-specific or audio-visual installations. On End of Absence, they are now presented in their pure sonic state.

Although the album as a whole deliberately encourages a wide range of interpretations, outwardly, it is clearly intrigued by the idea of polarities: 

  • clearly structured composition – free flow states
  • electronic sound synthesis – field recordings
  • artifice and abstraction – poetical, magical realism
  • narrative structures – associative hallucinations outside of linear time

On 'obstacles', which feels like the conceptual centrepiece of the album, all of these contrasts are touched upon. Over the course of its 12-minute duration, what, at first, seems to be the sound of a car, can be heard passing by several times over the distant din of rain, separated by stretches of otherworldly musings. Although the arrow of time is pointed into the future, the piece effectively re-lives the same scene again and again, as though the vehicle were gliding along the rim of a Moebius strip. Each time it passes is identical to the previous - yet each sets in motion an entirely different cascade of events. 

The first few seconds of the title track give away valuable suggestions about Immert's intentions, opening with buzzing electrical static, which is then superimposed with a field recording of birds – before delicate percussive echoes as well as processed chord clusters of deeply layered voices (presumably Irmert's own) create a serene image of perfect calm. No line is drawn between materials from radically different sources, all are capable of taking on both sonic and narrative functions, the world turning into a giant jukebox.

Similarly, on headphones, the presumed car noise on 'obstacles' suddenly feels a lot closer to the howling of wind or a processed filter sweep. As the origin of the sounds become increasingly obscure with each listen, their associative potential increases, confusion and familiarity engaging in a perpetual, unresolvable dance. 

End of Absence creates a space, in which the capacity of our senses to determine reality are constantly questioned and put to the test. The point of this perfect illusion is neither to trick the listener or to create 'soundtracks to imaginary movies' - although this might be an undercurrent, with regards to Irmert's background in film soundtrack production. But, conversely, to create an alternate cosmos triggered by sound, in which we are encouraged to trust our imagination - in many respects it is the listener who creates the dimensions of this cosmos as well as the objects inside of it. 

It is ironic that this layer should become present, or as the album title puts it, 'end its absence', only when we take something away, namely the accompanying visuals. But it can't be argued that the effect is powerful: In a way, our physical surroundings pale in comparison to this imaginary realm. It is perfectly real, even though one can't touch it.  

Jana Irmert released on Fabrique Records.

Jana Irmert

Album teaser

Written by Tobias Fischer.