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Ezekiel Honig
Folding In On Itself Joseph Burnett , July 21st, 2011 14:29

Beauty has a lot to answer for. It is probably the defining concept and objective of the human quest for some sort of sublimation, and yet nothing in life ever prepares you for how much it hurts.

From Neil Young's magnum opus On The Beach, through to the sparse and emotive folk-rock of Songs:Ohia and Red House Painters, I've felt the crush of overwhelming beauty as it managed to both enrapture and destabilise my soul. That's what pure beauty does: it hurts even as it elevates.

But no album hit me in the way The Disintegration Loops, by seminal New York composer William Basinski, did. Basinski took aged tape loops and allowed their natural degradation to taint his music with a wistful sense of passing time and deep regret. As these simple yet overwhelming loops evolved around my ears the first time, hot tears came rushing to my eyes as the sheer beauty of the music rocked me like few before it.

And Basinski's opus has left a deep impression on the musical landscape that has followed it. For sure, the likes of Fennesz and Philip Jeck were playing with the intensification of the more discrete elements of ambience and turning them into ambitious, elegiac pieces; and of course Basinski owes a debt of gratitude to the great minimalist composers of the mid-60s-onwards. But few pieces managed to be so spectacularly emotive using such spartan means. And since then, a veritable avalanche of artists have taken up exploring elements like the crackle of vinyl, minimal strings and synths or submerged electronic percussion and hoping to create something deep, intense and meaningful with relatively stripped-down means.

Which brings us to Ezekiel Honig. In many ways, he brings nothing new to this already sturdily-garnished table, yet Folding In On Itself is a worthwhile addition to the menu. Essentially, it's a moody and abstract soundtrack to Honig's home city, New York (something he also shares with Basinski), as the composer/producer grabs found sounds such as cars, conversational chatter, the subway and clanking machinery and then overlays them with subtle flourishes of piano, guitar, organ and synth to create a vivid mind's eye view of the Big Apple, albeit a deliberately foggy one.

In true ambient fashion, a lot of Honig's music is deceptively slight, with soft synth lines playing over scattered found sounds and wisps of digital fuzz. It may sound slight, but almost unexpectedly, Honig injects sub-aquatic techno beats into the mix, adding an uncertain edge to tracks like 'Subverting the Memory of Your Surroundings' and 'Between Bridges'. The former opens with a bizarre clattering sound and a muted sample of the New York subway, which dissolves and reappears throughout the track, snaking around wobbly rhythmic pulsations. The track's forward momentum handily sets the public transport scene, but the hazy production and droning organ mean that it's a post-party hangover journey you're on, fitful light from grimy carriage windows hitting bleary eyes. 'Between Bridges' is techno for smackheads, insistent but slovenly, the rhythm almost as insubstantial as a heartbeat whilst disconnected mutter unintelligible snippets of non-song. They're the two catchiest tracks on the album, but they still set the tone for an album that is sad, detached and drowsy.

The general vibe of Folding In On Itself is of distant memories of living, even surviving, in a dense, grimy and crowded city. The faded photographs Honig uses for the cover give the game away: this is an album dedicated to the lost heirlooms of people's lives, the sounds we hear but never properly register, the memories buried in daily life.

From the aching piano on 'Drafting Foresight' to the moaned guitar lines of 'High & Low', Folding In On Itself is laden with this sense of loss and regret. Time passes and damages, and beauty hurts. If at times the album is almost suffocatingly maudlin, Honig's light touch and elusive approach mean it never becomes overbearing for long. It's a touching and resonant addition to the legacy of The Disintegration Loops.