Time on his side: Ambient cycles of growth and decay

With the right set of ears, listening is anything but a passive process. Until he emerged as a recording artist under the Premonition Factory banner with last year’s 59 Airplanes waiting for New York, Antwerp-based Sjaak Overgaauw spent fifteen years mainly with decoding the systematics underpinning classics like David Sylvian and Robert Fripp’s Gone to Earth. Throughout this period of discovery, there was never any rush to step into the spotlight, no immediate necessity to abuse today’s cheaply available options of releasing one’s work. Instead, Overgaauw was happy to develop and question his vision through a string of self-organised live appearances until it truly felt ready. Slowy but surely, the concerts would turn from being mere laboratories for exploration into the actual reward. In-the-momentness, both in the studio and on stage, turned into the defining trait of his script. Open to incremental refinement and incisive progress alike, Overgaauw had found a unique selling point in a genre dominated by conformity – and laid the foundation for what might well turn into a long-lasting artistic career.

Certainly, as his second full-length The Sense of Time proves, the formula has anything but exhausted itself. In fact, one could contrarily argue that it is only now that the full potential of the Premonition Factory take on the genre is fully coming to fruition. Again, all tracks have been extracted from lengthy improvisations, with editing amounting to little more than selecting the right passages and adding fade-ins and -outs. But with recordings for the album stretching out across the entirety of 2010, the new full-length feels decidedly more diverse in tone and timbre than 59 Airplanes which, having been conceptualised and realised over a concise four-month period, was marked by tight chromatic coherency and tense atmospherics. The looping-nature of these pieces is anything but apparent at first sight, with the gradual appearance, disappearance and return of leitmotifs and microscopic markers feeling perfectly natural. Water makes for an apt metaphor: Like sonic waves washing over a silent beach, the ebb and tide of events creates ever-changing constellations of sand and shells, shuffling and re-arranging a handful of elements in infinitely surprising ways.

It has frequently been remarked that this type of moodwork is by default indebted to a few groundbreaking pioneers, with the tranquil states of someone like Steve Roach coming to mind and anyone from Eno to vidnaObmana getting a namedrop in Premonition Factory reviews. Technically speaking, this may be correct. And yet, Overgaauw has found inspiration less in the actual compositions of these blueprints but rather in their approach and ambition. Lest one forget, ambient was a genre of experimental music in the late 70s and early 80s and it is this lineage, rather than its more recent emanation as a form of sonic sedative, that he is tapping into: There are sizzling high-voltage discharges running through „Electric“, for example, while the lush and seductive pads of the title track are underpinned by grimly twitching rhythmical impulses. And as if to underline rather than hide their contrasting nature, these deviations from standard style-procedures are taking turns with drifting soundscapes like „Chasing the Unknown“, in which nothing but a few discrete flute tones send delicate ripples through an oscillating membrane of tranquil textures. Paradoxically, the album derives its coherency precisely from these radical juxtapositions: The sentimental sweetness of some of the cuts brings out the ominous and foreboding sentiments of its darker moments with even more resolve, the passages of near-standstill further emphasised by the sudden occurrence of propulsive patterns.

And yet, improvisation, to Overgauuw, is by no means an excuse for embarking on endless „cosmic“ journeys. Quite on the contrary, with most tracks between five and seven minutes’ length, there is never once the sensation of things dragging on for too long or of feeble fabrics being stretched to breaking point. Perfect realisations of his personal aim of setting imaginary movie scenes to music, these compositions delineate immediately striking sentient fields, conveying tangible storylines, which fade away once the action has played itself out. The live nature of the music is neither a fad nor a mere technical detail, but audibly translates to the music: Not content with comfortably resting on its place, it is always going somewhere, reaching for a clearly defined destination, regardless of how hard it may be to put it into words. At the end of each track, there is a rewarding sense of fulfillment, the notion of having witnessed the completion of a cycle of growth and decay. As if minutely documenting his inner life with an emotional camera, Overgaauw is channeling and moulding a both spellbinding and deeply calming stream of consciousness, allowing listeners to dip in and out of his mind at the speed of planetary rotation.

Dramaturgy and development are of vital importance here as structuring principles and gauges of movement. But they are taking place far away from the typical chronology experienced in rigidly organised systems, defying the suffocating routine of daily life. By stepping outside conventional debates and dogmas of progress, Sjaak Overgaauw has freed himself and the listener: Having time on your side is a liberating experience and sharing this sentiment with an audience is one of the most striking artistic statements imaginable.

Source: Tobias Fischer, Tokafi

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