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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

The Form of the Longform Abstract

In the form of Geneva Skeen's new album, Dream State

Say what you will about the mix of nostalgia, fossil-fuel products, and subpar sound quality that is employed with some finger-pointing regularity to characterize the resurgence of the tape cassette as a 21st-century conveyance of music from recording artist to listener, one positive service has certainly been accomplished: the rise of long-form compositions.

It seems more common today than it has been since the heights of the progressive rock era for commercially released albums to contain suite-length pieces, symphony-dimensioned (horizontally if not vertically) explorations longer than extended 12″s, longer than medleys, longer than the attention span attributed (malignly) to a generation raised amid screens.

Geneva Skeen’s many-layered collage of a new album, Dream State, on the label Crystalline Morphologies, is such a recording. It has two sides, each nearing 20 minutes — and far longer if taken into account is the time required to extract oneself from the artfully grim environment in which the music deposits its audience. The tracks amass mumbling tones and field recordings of clammy spaces, industrial noise and angelic singing, interrupted occasionally — or more to the point, layered further — by the barking of dogs. It is music that would make far less sense in the confines of a pop song. It is long enough to get lost in. This is the form of the abstract, a space suggested by throwback technology, and put to work for new purposes.

Timely purposes, truth be told. In a note describing the circumstances in which the music was made, Skeen depicts a world “heavier and more opaque” than it was just a few years earlier. She acknowledges circumstances one doesn’t take comfort in waking to. Her music wrestles with this new reality by exploring it for both its real and surreal qualities, its details and its incongruences, its shapes and its shadows.

Album released earlier this month at genevaskeen.bandcamp.com. More from Skeen at twitter.com/geneeves and soundcloud.com/geneeeeves. The work was recorded at a Land and Sea residency in Oakland, California, in 2018. More from the record label at crystallinemorphologies.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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