Dani Baquet-Long undeniably had her personal demons to deal with, living with an illness which she knew left her with desperately little time. But she was not afraid to face the dark. If so many found solace and inspiration in an oeuvre so obviously connected to themes of mortality and decay, then perhaps this is precisely because she didn’t look away and managed to infuse unspeakable horror with hope, poetry and meaning. Imagination, her biography claims, was her greatest muscle and to people with such an inclination, it is always the smallest events that inspire the greatest anxiety: the cracking of the floor at night, saying goodbye for the last time, the fear of bad things happening to a loved one. At the same time, she would courageously stand up to seemingly far bigger challenges. Her work with Celer often felt like fighting the inevitable with beauty, like sitting safely on top of a cloud while gazing into the abyss that would swallow her. Still, despite these philosophical ponderings, she hated pretension. In her solo oeuvre as Chubby Wolf, she would mock her own courage and resolve, laughing in the face of life, death and pride. Somewhere in between Laura Palmer’s diary and a lyrical sketchbook, there was always enough room for a little humour – not many are capable of instilling notions of the sacred into a piece called „Short Dick“.
With just her debut full-length L’Histoire published posthumously, the Chubby Wolf catalogue poses many questions, but will forever leave the answers to posterity. In an interview with Joseph Kyle of the Big Takeover, husband Will Long has emphasised the astounding diversity of her solo material, how it was mostly born out of utter boredom and with the intent of trying out as many approaches as possible: That pieces could either be culled from tape loops, voices and a variety of instruments; either be carefully constructed over the course of hours of editing or recorded on the fly; that they might have been based on toy piano tinkerings or focused synthesizers improvisations. Still, these are merely superficial observations. Even the fact that Dani would minutely finish her albums, painstakingly arrange every little detail and then file them away without any intent of publishing or sharing them – or that her handwriting on the cover of this, her latest release in a series that is bound to proliferate over the coming years, clearly denominates the album as Los que no son gentes („Those, who aren’t people“) but replaces the last word with the (objectively) meaningless „gentos“ – aren’t particularly revealing facts. Regardless of how much you read, think or know about it, the music is the mystery here and you’ll need to listen closely to unravel it.
It’s a hard enough not to crack as it is. Everything on Los que no son gentos is deepness, flux and haze, the music withdrawing almost entirely into the lowest imaginable regions of the human ear’s perception, where chord changes register as tectonic plate shifts and a seemingly gentle melody sends ripples through one’s entire body. Only occasionally will the subsonic celebration be pierced by soft, otherworldly choirs and angelic harmonics or engage in a dialogue with fragile, glassy overtones grouped into tender melodic spiderwebs. The purity of the timbral palette – comprising the complementary groups of bass-, bell- and analogue-synth-sounds – belies the fact that the underlying compositions are really of a bewildering complexity: Different themes or chords will be stacked on top of each other and gradually melt, as its constituent notes are shortly held, before drifting away from each other again. Most of the material accordingly takes on the form of seamless transformation processes, of one dense harmonic conglomerate merging into the next and solid shapes dissolving into its liquid components and into vague aural scents. The result is as indisputably tonal as it is chromatically diffuse, as intriguing as it is hard to penetrate: „Existence is both a Horizon and an Indictment“, Baquet-Long claims on one of the track titles, but so is her music, conveying sensations of great calm and suppressed tension, peaceful consolation and anxiety alike.
In fact, everything contained on the album is marked by the underlying duality of witnessing beguiling beauty right before one’s face and the inability of being able to grasp it. The impression is reinforced by the fact that, with the exception of two slightly more expansive cuts around the six minute mark, most compositions contained on Los que no son gentos are all but miniatures – songs in their brevity, if not actual arrangement – expressing just the necessary amount of notes. And yet, the aim of these small-scale operations is not so much precision but freedom. Unlike many clichéd drone pieces, Baquet-Long’s music is all about changes, not continuity, about surprise not sustain, about liberation through ambiguity rather than comfort in numbers. Nothing is set in stone in her world, everything could literally go into an entirely different direction at any moment. Even the act of continuing and the necessity of there being any sound at all turn from being a matter of course to a decision. When trust and doubts are becoming hard to distinguish and any note could be the last, there is weight in even the tiniest of gestures: „My Intermediary“ opens with nothing but a delicate four-note theme, which leads into a sustained breath and a long decay into near-silence. A few pulses at the outer edge of sound, a slow glacial fade-in – then the piece is over.
Of course, it is hard not to see the ephemerality of the music as a metaphor for the finiteness of our lives. And yet, it never feels threatening: If one can speak of mortality and decay without succumbing to its horror, there really is nothing left to fear.
By Tobias Fischer