Janek Schaefer’s aural macrocosm projects a quintessential hybrid of profound idealism and diligent engineering within the innumerable realms of mnemonic retrieval, a body of work causing a perceptive listener to seesaw between nostalgic reminiscence and compositional sensitivity. In spite of a systematic association of his name to those of other turntable manipulators and installation moguls thriving in related ambits, in this writer’s personal book of excruciating reflection Schaefer has represented a primary character since the very outset.
This is probably due to the crucial role he attributes to vinyl, an element I’ve been surrounded by across my entire existence. Or perhaps to his unique ability in selecting that enlightening snippet every time. As Schaefer cuts, pastes and loops segments of old music – more often than not picked from an apparently bottomless furrow replete with unusual little seeds – we choke on the fragmented remnants of our internal hard disk that no cleaning software will ever be able to remove. Nobody knows where one’s pneuma is hovering as fleeting imageries from a remote past and poignant reiterations gradually take control of the systems of apprehension.
A commission from Canterbury’s Sounds New Festival dating back to 2014, the 21-minute title track was mainly built upon slices of Robert Wyatt’s Cuckooland. The risk of focusing only on that half does exist, and it would be nearly justified: the piece is indeed splendid in its juxtaposition of Wyatt shades and competent merging of sonic traits from that album and elsewhere. Slowly surfacing chords dematerializing a moment later, stirring combinations of frequencies, ineffable voices and analog residues have existed forever in our life. Starting from the womb, that is.
The shorter chapters defining the record’s second part are equally affecting, the three “Corah” morsels depicting the extreme synthesis of a general impression. Revolving around similar coordinates of pathos while conveying sepia-tinged snapshots, all the tracks draw a line dividing different typologies of daydreaming. It’s absorbing stuff throughout, still rich in unimaginable details, ghostly suggestions and lights that can be faint or glowing, but never blinding. At the start of “Battlestar Kaempfert.” yours truly mentally reaffirmed the uselessness of words. Yet again.
What Light There Is Tells Us Nothing is another essential statement from the bespectacled specialist of regretfulness: Janek Schaefer, visionary of timeworn tenderness.