It is virtually impossible to consider any work by Celer in complete isolation, such is the omnipresence of his musical output. With over 100 releases spanning a period of 15 years, there is some inevitable crossover between each work, and the composer has concocted such a defined and personal sonic tapestry that his name alone conjures up a highly specific ambient tableau. In the case of I Wish You Could, however, such pre-emptive expectations are somewhat collapsed by a work that both invokes and exceeds any prior understanding of what a Celer album might be.
The album can be summed up in a single word – sparse. It is without doubt music for sitting alone to, a work of such solitude and fragility as to have a tangible effect on the attentive listener. That it draws upon the fairly well established oeuvre of William Basinski or even Leyland Kirby, is clear, perhaps more so than on any previous Celer album, despite such comparisons having been made in the past. It is an album that explore repetition with an almost Deleuzian finesse, not so much replaying its limited motifs as reframing them across time, and in turn denying the listener anything other than an active, co-constructive role within the composition.
The opening track, ‘Everywhere I Go You’re All I See’, stretches out less than 10 seconds of material to over 30 minutes, with very little – if any – indication of change. Celer provides no structure, no narrative, just that same repetitious phrase over and over again for what feels like a minor eternity. As a listener, the effect is phenomenal. Without registering any sonic difference, I can feel the piece mutate and grow, with unexpected overtones seeming to emerge vicariously before me, leaving me utterly unsure whether I am entirely imagining the subtle drift that constantly tugs at each repetition, the claustrophobic, inexhaustible fog that clouds both the music and mind. The relationship between the memory and the auditory is made resonant by the loss of any punctuation, any moment that might tie the listener to a specific spot – I find myself drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to focus on the piece and in doing so allowing it to colour the lived experience of being as I oscillate between the everyday and the disparate, disjointed recollections that the work digs up. Put simply, change is not experience as a property of the music, but as a property of the listener, made present by the sonic world in which they are immersed.
Whilst I have enjoyed Celer’s work in the past, I Wish You Could stands out for its refusal to adhere to even the limited narrative form present in many of his other works – there is no beauty here, no invocation within the music itself, only the cold and immovable residue of a composition to which the listener holds no access, an almost clinical phantom affect that is utterly mesmerising. Whilst the second track, ‘Wishes Would Be Grand If Only They Came True’, follows the same model as the first, it is no less effective, offering a faintly punishing journey that feels the ‘easier’ of the two works by virtue of the fact that, roughly 15 minutes in, the listener can detect a moment of actual change in the form if a slightly accented lower frequency that momentarily raises itself above the otherwise static parapet. Resonances emerge and dissipate without grandeur, providing not so much a background for other, more pressing activities, as an immersive event, an encompassing nothingness cast in start opposition to the hyperactive flux of modern life.
As an album of so little resource, it is almost easier to discuss what it is not – it is neither a careful study of frequency nor an exploration of timbral development, neither a structured narrative nor a formless drone. Rather, it is in every sense a signifier of presence, a work that relies fundamentally on a collaboration with its listener and that, in doing so, assumes a state of attentive listening that it simultaneously exhausts. It is not a composition as such – it is a constant search for difference. Whilst on the surface at least, I Wish You Could may seem less beautiful, less expansive, than some earlier works, this is only because such terms suggest a musical capacity the album not so much omits as transcends – it may not be beautiful in any traditional sense, but it is beyond doubt an example of Celer at his most affective.