Just as William James emphasized the importance of experientiality to the mystic in Varieties of Religious Experience, I’ve come to believe that some music should be referred to as ‘experiential’ (is that taken?) or ‘suchness’ rather than by a name that attempts to describe the characteristics of the music, i.e. ‘drone,’ ‘ambient,’ ‘noise.’ The latter attempts inevitably fall short as a descriptor of the music and as a hint of why the music matters or what it’s trying to express. All music is experiential, sure, but certain forms of music seem to be especially focused on the experientiality, the thing in itself, the suchness of listening. Whereas quite a lot of music is outwardly-focused in all kinds of ways, this stuff operates on a primarily internal level and encourages the listener to pull inwards.
Cinchel (aka Jason Shanley) works in this sort of interiority, operating in the same realm as people like Tim Hecker and Fennesz. He’s been flying under the radar in Chicago for a few years now, quietly recording an arresting body of work and forming a small but dedicated following. The one live show I attended is a bit hazy – I remember being interested in his equipment – I think it was a guitar hooked up to a laptop, various pedals and an unusual-looking spring reverb unit? – but all technical concerns melted away as I became lost in a reverie, entranced in the music.
Stereo Stasis appears to be Cinchel’s most prominent release to date, and to my ears it’s his best. I’ve listened to it three or four times now, and each time the thing pulls me inwards, pulls me back into the same sort of reverie that I experienced at the live show. The sound is lush and deep: listen with some quality speakers or headphones and you can feel the full stereo image, the intense low end of “Static (homeward bound)” even as the guitar tones reach skyward. With subwoofers, my room starts humming back a harmonic response to the music. Taylor Deupree has mastering credits here, and he’s done an excellent job. From what I understand, this is almost all guitar music (a Fender Rhodes is present on track 1), but as in the work of Fennesz you might be hard-pressed to identify any really obvious guitar sounds. Or obvious anything, really; instead what you might end up with is a patient slow-pan exploration of the interior architecture of an elaborate temple, following by a burning ecstatic ascent, followed by trails of embers left in its wake (“Wandering/Collapse/Breakdown/Ultimate Heat Death”).
With ‘suchness music’ I get the sense that actually going track-by-track and describing what I’m hearing is ultimately futile, and worse, harmful. The point is in the individual experience and journey, and no amount of music critic adjective abuse is going to help. All I can do is give my highest, warmest recommendation for a criminally unknown artist, and point out that the barrier to entry is really small – there’s Stereo Stasis up for streaming on bandcamp! It’s a little under 30 minutes long! Go listen. It’s worth experiencing.