There is no doubt that we live in overstimulated times. Social media, click-bait and the 24-hour news cycle; globalisation and inter-connectivity; fads and fashions and causes that last for weeks or days rather than seasons or months; memes and viral videos and user comments; crisis upon crisis upon crisis beamed directly to our phones; all these things have made 21st-century life feel overloaded and perpetually rushed. They have somehow turned space and emptiness and contemplative quiet into negatives, into idle and useless indulgences.
In light of this, all I can say is: thank the gods that people like Will Guthrie still exist. And thank them twice for Sacrée Obsession – it’s just the thing to cure our modern-day blues.
A vinyl-only release featuring just two songs – “Timelapse” and “Pacemaker,” one for each side – Sacrée Obsession is all about space and emptiness, and is another excellent example of Guthrie’s continuing interest in ritual, repetition and the development of complexity through the slow evolution of simple phrases and rhythms. Guthrie himself describes it as “dark and organic minimal music,” but I would say that ‘dark’ is a bit of a misnomer: the atmosphere of Sacrée Obsession may be sombre and subdued, but it is in no way depressing, gloomy, mournful, bitter or any of a thousand other negative synonyms that the word ‘dark’ conjures up. Instead, the moods that Guthrie creates are almost aural reflections of those moments of alone-time that are all too rare; it is quiet and contemplative and calm, evocative of a kind-of unhurried happiness.
“Timelapse” and “Pacemaker” work in similar ways: they are both entirely percussive and are centred on a simple motif that slowly-slowly-slowly evolves into something more complex. But their specific instrumentations and rhythmic palettes are vastly different, and hence create very different kinds of moods.
“Timelapse” builds on a simple and spacey chime-gong-cymbal pattern, a pattern both rhythmic and melodic. Guthrie allows the space between the notes and strikes in this pattern to dominate: the tones ring out and fade away to nothing, accompanied by brushed cymbals that rise and fall and rise and fall almost randomly. After a while, a stuttering drumbeat starts to fill in these quiet spaces. But it disappears almost as soon as it appears, playing maybe half a bar at most. A while later, it reappears and fills out a whole bar this time. And then it disappears again, only to once again reappear a few minutes later. This kind of glacial in-fill continues throughout, but is never rushed or over the top, allowing plenty of breathing room and ‘head space’ up until the end.
“Pacemaker” is more urgent; it is busy and ‘full.’ A sustained cymbal wash – a ringing gong-like sound, the beaters obviously padded – grows in volume and force, like a gentle breeze becoming a gust of wind. It suddenly gives way to a perfect moment of silence. This metaphorical eye of the storm quickly passes: a stick-percussion and cymbal-hit pattern begins, an ever-changing 1-2-3-4 semiquaver pattern, like rain steadily falling on a tin roof. In much the same ways as real rain, its tempo and attack ebb and flow, sometimes thick and heavy, sometimes light and soft. And once again just like real rain, we are distanced from it, this time thanks a set of speakers instead of an actual roof. Distanced in this way, we can then just let its hypnotic drone and organic movement wash over us and carry us away.
Take a break. Lie down in the sun. Slip your headphones on. Close your eyes. Play Sacrée Obsession. Lose yourself…