2020 has, to use the mildest possible terminology, been a profoundly curious, difficult year, a maelstrom of uncertainty into which the entire planet has been thrown. Countless liberties have been shelved; privileges once taken for granted, parked; careers either threatened or simply ruined. It has been a year of tangible tragedy for many, hope for others, and reflection for a few.
Into this vortex steps Irish doyen Phil Kieran, who, at the tail end of what might resemble something of a year zero, provides a soundtrack that is most fitting, in the shape of his Endless Suspension EP on Belfast’s Resist-AV imprint.
With an almost uncanny, slightly eerie sense of foresight, Kieran set out early in the year to create “an imaginary soundtrack to an imaginary movie of a city frozen in endless suspension, a kind of sense of chaos but with strength to try and overcome it”. That this work would take on a meaning so appropriately profound months later makes it all the more captivating.
With layered reverberant cello sounding tantalisingly like horns, a clarion call announcing the beginning of the journey into this soundscape, Part 1 reflects the tumult of emotions that one can experience on a solitary journey, with only one’s myriad thoughts for company. Fear, comfort; despair, hope; confusion, familiarity; all find themselves alluded to via the growing chorus of strings which battle with astral arpeggios and warm low-ends.
As with many ambient pieces, there is room for both objectivity and subjectivity, but Kieran deftly, subtly plants hints throughout these pieces as to where he may like to take you, and Part 2 points to a feeling of endless possibilities, carried along on enveloping chords embellished with occasional cinematic strings. And hope continues to flower amidst the cavernous cacophony of Part 3 as we hear a rhythmic synth motif fighting proudly to make its presence felt in an attempt to remind us that clubs won’t remain empty and inaccessible forever, and that one day we shall dance again. The EP pivots here, with Part 4 diverting down a darker path, a sobering reminder of the reality we all find ourselves in, sinister cellos carried on throbbing pulse-modulated bass and high-pitched strings, evoking distressed voices shorn of words, providing a sense of increasing discomfort and confusion. Part 5 continues the thread, not allowing us to throw off the shackles of reality, making plain the deepest feelings of dread and distress.
Part 6 acts as the closing credits theme, robotic rhythms underpinning the perception of emerging defiantly from the wreckage, battered but not beaten despite being reminded by the strings of the ardour of the journey. We have made it.
Endless Suspension is something of a left turn for Phil Kieran, but then so has the entire year for all in the electronic music community. Bereft of gigs and spaces in which to test another timeless dancefloor explosion, the Irishman has opted for the introspective, and in doing so, has still managed to capture the zeitgeist, his finger ever on the pulse of the wider dance community, a trusted hand to carry us to the new dawn.