If there’s an enticing remoteness to the work on EARLabs 3, a new album-length collaboration between Jos Smolders, Christopher McFall, and Sasha Neudeck, perhaps credit goes to their working conditions. Living as the three do in entirely different cities and countries — respectively Tilburg, the Netherlands; Kansas City, U.S.A.; and Vienna, Austria — they opted to telecommute. And as if the distance wasn’t already enough of a factor in coloring their group effort, they also elected to do so one at a time, sharing files rather than performing together virtually.
The excerpt heard here (MP3) is an exercise in stunning silences and jarring interruptions, a work of spatial play — all intricate little noises positioned just so — that demands headphones but really plays best on a proper pair of speakers, in a room where the sounds can fill it and take over, like ghosts inhabiting an old building.
There are ghastly, dead winds that rotate slowly in the distance, and sudden sounds that signify something happening, and just as quickly disappear. There are what could be muffled calls for help, and quick edits that make it easy to lose one’s sense of time during the five-minute recording.
And what there is, foremost, is a balance between calm and tension. This is not music to relax to, nor is it the score to a slasher film. It’s an investigation, painstaking in its rectitude and attention to detail, that commands attention — attention to every brittle cue, every choking gasp, every abstract fragment.