Phillp Sollmann / Something is Missing / 2006

Sample Room One

Ce n’est pas une pipe qui fait la musique.

In 1928, Bascom Lamar Lunsford recorded a traditional American folk song titled simply, I wish I was a Mole in the Ground.  Which was later included on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, forever giving the recording it’s important place in path-ions of music and the history of a nation. But within this (seemingly) simplistic song there is something deeper being revealed about the human experience;

I wish I was a mole in the ground

Yes, I wish I was a mole in the ground

If I’s a mole in the ground I’d root that mountain down.

Within the simple poetry of those three lines is a rather complex message of absence. The age-old need to be removed or invisible from this world around us. This shouldn’t be mistaken as a suicide request. Actually, it’s an expression of a very different need for “absence” in the face of a complex world that make us wish to be small, meaningless and alone. Just like that mole is the ground, we hide ourselves and subvert the foundation. Greil Marcus, rock music critic and writer, tells us that what is expressed is the desire to be “delivered from life and be changed into a creature insignificant and despised…to see nothing and to be seen by no one”.  

All of which may seem like a strange place to start a review for a highly experimental, drone album. And yet, here we are.  Sonically speaking, Phillip Sollmann’s Something is Missing is about as far removed from the rough, earthy recording of Mole in the Ground as can be imagined.  Mole seemingly growing organically from the dirt and roots of the earth.  While Sollmann’s album takes us far, far from our home on earth.  Exploring the distant darkness and lonely beauty that inspires space travel and explorations to outer worlds. Nevertheless, when I first heard Something is Missing, my mind immediately jumped to Lunsford’s Mole.  Both inhabit a similar philosophical terrain; exploring man’s loneliness and perhaps our destiny to be this way. 

Something is Missing distinguishes itself with series of dense, post-tonal noises that go deep into those empty voids within the music.  The grey texture of space replacing the warmth of our earth. There are no song titles on Sollmann’s record. The listeners is presented with five different suites or, as he refers to them, “rooms” that serve as plateaus from which to stage the next exploration of space-drone.  Each room recorded at different location’s over the course of two years of experimentation. The sound ranging from silence (or near silence) to a full orchestration of reductionist noise using a minimal of color and melody.  Reductionist noise?  Imagine a sound-stage that speaks through the “absence” within the music. The use of the silence as the key tool of composition.  In other words, human existence is a lonely place and silence conveys that feeling. Using a range of muted electronic tones and buzzing harmonic drones, the listener is taken on an icy voyage into a distant space. The emptiness glistening around us as the music moves at a glacial pace. This solid exterior of sound is intentionally limited and undisturbed with only occasional nuanced movements left for us to behold and study. Eventually, this vast grayness of sound does begin to melt with sharp cracks and watery textures emerging at the end of Room Four.  Exposing the first brushes of color in the music.  Finally, halfway through Room Five, we feel the warmth of a Sollmann’s thin vocal and the simple lyric from Jane’s ‘Fine Day’ humming across an (almost) electro-pop drone. An intriguing but short lived moment as the track returns to silence for the final 23 minutes.  

All that we have been prepared to expect in electronic music is abandoned here.  We experience an environment where absence or negation is as much a part of the music’s palate as it is part of life itself. This is  highly experimental, avant-garde music that is equally hypnotic and darkly beautiful.  Something is Missing is a very rare trip that will transport each listener on their own voyage through the forgotten caverns of some undiscovered world within each of us.  Most amazingly, this sound of distant travel is recurrent with shimmering tones of our own earthly loneliness and fragility. Does our exploration and science serve us? Or have we come so far to face the universe alone again, like a mole in the ground.