Knot Invariants (2012) by sound artist Helena Gough is minimal, abstract, computer composed or sculpted music, which is soothing (like slow and continuous sets of waves hitting us with a calming and hypnotic effect), contemplative and emotional (soulful).
There's tension (as in the beginning of "Double Bowline"), darkness and melancholy too. Sometimes it is even unsettling: at some point "Ossel Hitch" sounds like a beast rumbling around. But the whole album is very subtle and poignant. Even mysterious. Nothing sounds forced, superfluous or misplaced.
It is also musical: expressive, warm, organic and fluid - flows and breathes in a natural way. Besides the bass sounds (I love the ultra bass in "Double Bowline") and composition itself, the real sounds from the violoncellos ("source material derived solely from recordings of cellists Anthea Caddy and Anton Lukoszevieze") may help giving the music that organic and warm feel, no matter if those sounds are more or less explored, processed and abstracted through technology. Helena gives the cello sounds new sounds and dimensions, by changing them and placing them in new contexts.
You have simplicity and minimal along with rich textures and detail. Contemplation along with intensity and drama. Abstract along with a narrative: there is an album wholeness, but each track standing on its own and having its distinctive elements.
That is what I felt and understood in an intuitive way as a listener. To be able to say or describe more I needed to master the vocabulary and listen more often to electronic music. However, even if you are not an experimental electronic music experienced listener, one soon realises that Knot Invariants, Helena's third album, is high level material. Top level. Like when you first experience a good Cognac and knew nothing about it...
It was suggested to listen to the album at night and in silence. And that is the right atmosphere to reach its subtleties. I find the music very subtle and meditative as well. The more you listen, the more you go deeper.
My experience as a listener tells me that technically high trained musicians tend to rely more on the technique and make their compositions less musical and express themselves with less emotion. I found myself wondering if Helena Gough, a classically trained violinist, has chosen the digital media as the means (of composition) to actually create music and express herself as an artist with more freedom and in a more intuitive and spontaneous way. Then I found this quote by Helena: "You work directly with sound like a potter with clay". We listeners thank for her molding and sculpting.
I also like this quote: "Sometimes I hope to offer a moment in which someone might sense that things do not have to be as they are", Helena Gough stated in 2007. A very existentialist and nonconformist thought. The "moment" in art (or "the decisive moment" as Henri Cartier-Bresson put it) can inspire, empower and be cathartic.
It means that we can transcend ourselves and reality. That we can express ourselves in the maximum power of life, and leave our mark in the world instead of just following the flock (crowd) or being frozen by fear. That authenticity can be pursuit - pursue the individual one wants to become or the art one wants to create. That "man is freedom" (Jean-Paul Sartre), and we can be what we are. That normality, status quo and conventions can be challenged. That we can choose with passion and in a meaningful way. That one can be true to his/her own sense of creativity. That we can make the most of our life - living life to its absolute fullest.
Some, like the philosopher Hannah Arendt, argue that freedom is experienced more authentically when it is shared. Or art, or creativity, knowledge or happiness, or any other deep expression of ourselves. Being part of something larger seems to empower the individual.
The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa wrote in his Livro do Desassossego (Book of Disquiet - translated by Richard Zenith; numbered section 260): "Art consists in making others feel what we feel, in freeing them from themselves by offering them our own personality for special deliverance" (A arte consiste em fazer os outros sentir o que nós sentimos, em os libertar deles mesmos, propondo-lhes a nossa personalidade para especial libertação). "I definitely want there to be emotion", said Helena Gough. Isn't emotion that makes the real difference in art? Isn't emotion that makes art liberating? Liberating as it has a cathartic effect: purging the individual of negative emotions (freeing from ourselves).
She asked back in 2009: "how to deal with saturation?" Intense (deep and even obsessive) expression of one's creativity may induce saturation, and that is an opportunity to think about new pathways. The act of creation has to make the artist feel empowered and exhale passion and freedom.
Music fans always want to get their "drug" and be "freed" (from themselves...). Even if the artist has to bleed... So, the artist should only create when and how he/she feels like doing it, and for his/her own satisfaction above all, before sharing with others for the benefit of all: creator+listeners.