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Illusion of Safety - In Opposition to Our Acceleration

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Artist: Illusion of Safety

Album: In Opposition to Our Acceleration

Label: Die Stadt

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

The reality of music exists concurrently in the appeasement and confrontation of audience expectation, a rather broad characterization, but relevant in as much as the medium is either cohesive or incongruous with the seldom-aligned realms of internal and environmental sound. Illusion of Safety, while often opting for confrontation, has veritably embodied this paradox across an oeuvre spanning two decades, beginning in the sound-collage cassette underground of the early 80s and expanding through 14 full length CD releases since 1991. Primarily the brainchild of Dan Burke, IoS has featured a host of revolving contributors, including the ubiquitous Jim O’Rourke and his Brice-Glase cohort Thymme Jones. The project’s output is often labeled as schizophrenic, a moniker not entirely misleading in light of the diversity and evolution of mood, context, and source material in the Illusion of Safety trajectory.

In Opposition to Our Acceleration, the recent IoS release on Germany’s Die Stadt label, consists of eight live recordings from the past five years, as well as “Stillpoint,” the melodic axis of the disc, a studio recording previously released on the Wiretapper 7 compilation. While Illusion of Safety has largely defined the parameters of its own genre for the past two decades, the album has contemporary reference points, such as the electro-acoustic treatments of the first Presocratics record, the shifting tectonics of German improv electronics, and the shuffling noise of recent :zoviet*france: recordings. It combines these elements with traditional and haphazard instrumentation, computer frippery and location recordings. An ambient polyglot of startling clarity, Burke forges both a collection of autonomous pieces and a work that, by virtue of post-production and conceptual continuity, moves fluidly from beginning to end.

The album purveys a sense of the transrational, mixing elements of the seemingly incongruous, the copacetic and the immediately disconcerting. In Opposition to Our Acceleration opens with a spliced chord of displaced blues piano, but the calm quickly gives way to disc treatment and electronic drone. Throughout the record, the truncation of sublime moments is so quiet and subtle as to coordinate an uneasy amalgamation of moods. Somewhere in the parameters, a whittling carpenter suddenly finds himself asphyxiating amidst a mountain of wood shavings, or the hearing-impaired finds himself at the bottom of a landslide: the swell of environment subsumes tranquility.

Burke is unwilling to reduce emotional content to a singular experience, and the music on In Opposition to Our Acceleration moves between and ultimately conflates a multitude of emotional responses. Unlike most ambient artists, he is unwilling to characterize the momentary as self-contained or linear, and attains to a simultaneity of composure and anxiety, comfort and fear. The results are mixed: while some tracks manage to purvey Burke’s complex thesis, others are too self-consumed, muddled and buried in an intricacy of textures. Experience is only surveyed in its incomprehensible complexity as a subconscious phenomenon. Illusion of Safety best approaches this concept in shades of minutiae, and while the larger ensemble pieces, including the two culled from a 1996 WNUR broadcast, occasionally overworks their own ambition, more minimal compositions plot along in somber expressionism. Track eight, one of three from an exceptional live performance in Hamburg, falls just below a comfortable audibility in its polyphonic meanderings, as if receding into self-contemplation. Such moments, rather than accommodating a given atmosphere, confront a preexisting reality obscured by reductive thought, whereby Illusion of Safety stubbornly treads new ground in ambiance.

By Tom Roberts

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