Music’s capacity to elicit echoes of personal memory in listeners has received attention from writers in recent years. Unless one has personally experienced a “Proustian moment” in sound, a cynical reader might dismiss such writings as woolly meanderings. The phenomenon is, of course, real, but finding concrete, universally acceptable examples is problematic because the subjective effect varies from person-to-person.
Food memory-triggers are perhaps more relatable. For Proust, the trigger was a bite of tea-dunked cake. For me, it was a pizza slice—Joey Pizza Slice, or rather his 2017 LP Let’s Not Talk About Music (Wharf Cat Records), his first release under his real name Joey Agresta.
From the 1980s educational/motivational VHS-vibes on the synth-based opener “A Win Song for Bernie” (now tainted by thwarted ambition and irresolution vis. its creation during Sanders’s failed campaign), to the introductory chord of “I Feel Like Shit And I Want To Die” (the emotional inverse to the first chord of the Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night”), Agresta’s music is replete with sonic memory throwbacks piggybacking on meta-throwbacks summoning the slack of the paradigmatic “old weird America.” Thrift-store guitars, basses, drum-miscellany, and plucky tambourines soundtrack a dramatic musical-psychological struggle against inertia, anxiety, and 21st-century hubris (“I’m not looking for trouble / We live on the skin of a bubble” insists the pacifistic refrain of the skronky “Jerks”).
Under his previous Joey Pizza Slice and Son of Salami monikers, Agresta pioneered “eraserheadless recording,” employing modified cassette recorders to produce chaotic “blind-listening” overdubs—a daring technique requiring dexterity, an attuned sense of pitch and rhythm, and much bloody-mindedness. Eraserheadless recording is not employed on this latest coming-of-age album (constituting his slickest productions yet), but these aforementioned qualities all permeate Agresta’s inventive pop-nuggets, each betraying a lo-fi upbringing.
Let’s Not Talk About Music questions the role of the singer-songwriter in now politically dynamized Western societies where artistic manifestos of subjective experience are increasingly viewed with derision or slighted as tweely and inconsequential in these hardheaded days. “There must be an answer,” Agresta modestly intones in near-comatose ballad “I Want to Live Again” (the answer was “there all along,” “hidden in the song,” we learn). Despite the proclamations of “I Won’t Give Up” (featuring Palberta), the Vermont-based omni-instrumentalist has claimed elsewhere to be considering retiring from music, which would be an annoying victory for the demotivating forces, and a downer for lovers of ingenious poetic music.
The Proustian moments in Agresta’s music may only be implicit. By contrast, another release of the past year explicitly foregrounds these moments, and is necessarily completely different in style: Viewfound’s instrumental ambient album Memorate (Shimmering Moods Records) gets into the guts of the phenomenon. Memorate is a noun coined by Carl Wilhelm von Sydow to denote a first-hand retelling of a uniquely personal experience, often involving supernatural components. A suitable neologism for Viewfound’s intimate experiments in capturing sensory impressions within sound could be psyphonics—a field
characterized by “hauntology,” sound maps, emotion-specific ASMR triggers, the “suchnesses” inherent within environmental recordings as cooed over by the legendary Chris Watson, and the cassette-orientated memoryscapes of Brooklyn-based Aki Onda. All these figments coalesce in Memorate’s determinedly non-digital drifts, shepherded by wondrous mantras (characterizing the opener, “Den”) and looping sneak-pot psychoacoustic tone flourishes that edge themselves free of the stereo field like incognito Diana Deutsch musical paradoxes sporting Frippertronic mustaches (as in “Interlude,” which leans towards non-standard tunings). Unusually for an ambient record, reverb (of the spring variety, no less) is used only sparingly, preserving the finely detailed electroacoustic textures showcasing Viewfound’s bespoke instrumentarium.
Viewfound—the alias of London-based artist Milo Thesiger-Meacham—found a fitting outlet for Memorate in Amsterdam’s Shimmering Moods Records, whose apt motto “into the far reaches of the imagination” overarches a roster of meditative-experimental limited edition CD-Rs, each hand-crafted and beautifully produced. Memorate is no exception, comprising a triptych of music, artwork, and prose, which further underscores the authenticity of the memorate emission for which intimacy is a prerequisite.
No doubt, like Proust’s cake, Memorate’s explorations into applied psyphonics may constitute personal memory stimulators triggering pockets of environmental remembrance for Thesiger-Meacham himself, recorded as they were between the formative ages of fourteen and nineteen at home in his den. But inevitably, listeners won’t intuit those exact same feelings, thus exposing the inconsistent nature of psyphonics: a fuzzy neologism with a potential spuriousness akin to the 20th century’s parapsychology.
Viewfound’s and Joey Agresta’s releases, each in their own authentic way, demonstrate that this memorate phenomenon is becoming increasingly experienceable within postmodernity’s sonic hubbub of quasi-familiarities.
Not wishing to sound sensorily greedy (but rather to provide a punch line of sorts for this column), if such deep impressions could be somehow objectively defined, recorded, and conveyed via sound on demand, then we could truly have our Proustian cake and eat it too.
DANIEL WILSON is a UK-based writer, researcher, and composer, recording as Meadow House and also Radionics Radio (exploring the concept of embodying thoughts within microtonal music). He also performs with post-electronic music quartet Oscillatorial Binnage, with their EP Oscillations coming out on Ash International late 2017.