“(Music should) accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” Brian Eno’s quote has been widely used to describe ambient compositions in the past, but it’s a quote that should be applied to all music today. Music should avoid an intrusive air while at the same time it must offer the listener an irreducible experience if required. This caters then both to the informed- and uniformed listener without alienating one over the other. It’s quite evident why we discerned a parallel in ambient music with its textural blanket of sound, but I recently found myself returning to this philosophy through a most unlikely source from the annals of dance music – Pearson Sound’s (aka David Kennedy) self-tiled debut. It was towards the end of the album and a track called Headless where everything fell into place for me. The processed vocal moan accompanied by a restrained kick drum and floating feedback, conjure a surreal environment that lets you float off into your own thoughts if you are not careful about paying attention. It’s quite a departure from the Hessle Audio boss’ sub-bass rhythmical assault that became his calling card in the Hessle Audio franchise, but at the same time it’s something that has clearly developed over the preceding two releases, REM and Raindrops. The ideas behind those previous EPs have been refined however on the album, as a more restrained approach is palpable throughout its entirety. Kennedy very rarely falls into old habits on Pearson Sound and when he does it incites a very different experience form his earlier work. Instead of delving into thick miasmic layers of percussion, he strips everything back into only essential parts, leaving the listener enough room to drop in and out of each composition as and when s/he wishes. This doesn’t however mean he denies the beat a foothold like he did on Raindrops. He remains true to the Hessle Audio m.o. from the very beginning. Asphalt Sparkle sets the tone with a simple melodic motif from an eighties palette, which is often squashed with a deep kick in true Hessle sub-auditory charm. As that simple synth riff comes in and out of focus, it stays static without morphing into anything other than those few notes that constitute it. The roar of the kick intermittently breaks the continuity, but without much in the way of true development.
This is how Kennedy eventually arrives at the same point that Eno set out in that quote. Through repetitive themes and stark textures he achieves the same result as Eno’s earlier ambient works with its dense textures and slow moving developments. It is however the stark minimalist landscape that stands out on this release and also the reason the huge kicks and percussive elements, which are quite prominent – especially in comparison to anything Eno ever made – never accost the listener. Swill, probably the most extreme example on the album, sputters along through various evolutionary stages in a trance inducing repetitiveness that eventually comes to an abrupt end in Six Congas. The way the different parts morph in texture takes care to never delve into something monotonous when invested in the listening experience and it’s not the only example where Kennedy uses repetition to achieve that same musical ideal. Glass eye, which is in fact little more than a beat uses a clever delay on the hollow snare that snaps back each time just before strays too far from its origin, avoiding the simple repetitive beat falling into the domain of a dull drone. The short acid-like synth motif assists the overall development as it too evolves with nothing more than the modulation of a reverb, while the addition of an emaciated pad calls in a new phrase, even though the repetitive beat is still the central theme and refuses to completely evaporate. In short a few immovable elements come together to form a complex development of very simple themes and accommodate the listening experience from innumerable approximations. Even when Kennedy delves completely into a dance format with the addition of a straightforward four on the floor, its objective remains clouded in a trance-like state that never intrudes if it is not demanded. Russet’s clock-like rigid rhythmical percussive parts slip in and out of the cerebral much like time in a dream, and the thinly veiled synth drives the point home, hovering in the background like a static realisation of the surreal, building up to the ultimatum that is the final track, Rubber Tree. Here Pearson Sound is at his most energetic, recalling earlier works like Clutch, but at the same time the listener would be able to draw a significant comparison to Gristle, the cinematic interlude of whirling machine-like mechanisms much earlier on the album. Rubber Tree stops the album abruptly just as the feedback decides to get less subtle and with that the album concludes in a way that calls into question whether it ever really existed. Pearson Sound’s debut is as much there as it is not. The restrained production and repetitive nature slips into the background effortlessly, but as soon as we open up our ears to the intricacies of the compositions a new world is immediately available to the invested listener. It calls in a new era for Brian Eno’s familiar quote. Making music that is as “ignorable as it is interesting” is firmly established today in a new approach, an approach that relies on the repetitive and minimal aspects of dance music, without falling victim to the monotony of a drone. Pearson Sound’s debut marks a distinctive impression on this chapter of electronic music and if this is the sign of things to come, we will wait on baited breath for the next instalment.