Ezekiel Honig and Morgan Packard
Early Morning Migration
s I listen to the first collaborative work by Ezekiel Honig and Morgan Packard, I am sitting in my house in El Centro, California, just ten miles from the U.S.-Mexican border, watching (on satellite) a replay of a World Cup qualifying match between Switzerland and the Faroe Islands that is played on a barely-grass pitch in the Faroes under the watchful eyes of a handful of fans (mostly Swiss, it seems) and a collection of barren, tundra-like hills. For some reason, this music—a collection of tracks created separately by the two artists and then collected into a unified collection they chose to call Early Morning Migration—seems oddly appropriate to a world where someone in the teeth of the California desert can watch (on a whim) a soccer match played in one of the most isolated (and frozen) reaches of Europe. This is music that perfectly captures the surreal emptiness of everyday life in a digital world.
Six of the eleven tracks here are by Honig; five are by Packard. I know this only because of the liner notes. Had I listened to this cold, not knowing who did it or how, I would have assumed this music were the product of a single artist, creating a Hecker-like soundscape out of fragmented rhythms, wavering synths, and digital debris. The fact that each of these works was created separately is, then, rather impressive, if only because the tracks, while all unique, all share a similarity of tone and theme that would suggest a single creator.
That tone is sadness. These are sparse, isolated works that each seek to express the same lilting despair in different ways. For example, "Billow" features a sparse, lilting piano that floats down and down into a pool of washed-out fuzz. "White on White" features some sort of synthesized (and repeated) trumpet bleat that repeats in downward, sputtering arcs over the song's course. "Planting Broken Branches Pt. 1" begins as a frail, ISAN rhythm of thrown-away noise fragments that sound like empty drops of rain falling on rusty buckets before slowly developing into a funkier beat composed of thrown-away noise fragments (sans buckets). And "A Lake of Suggestions Pt. 2" features a Tim Hecker-like shimmering array of static underneath a variation of the same funky groove heard throughout. That's four different ways to sound sad; there are seven others on this eleven-track work.
A lot of people hate being sad; others revel in it. I don't follow either camp, but I do appreciate sad music when I hear it, if only because it's often so quiet, so devoid of all the bells and whistles that seem to dominate most songs. Sad music needs space to let the lone, isolated sounds have their say. The best sad music—anything by William Basinski, Gorecki, Sigur Ros, Tim Hecker, Gevorg Dabaghyan, or Radiohead—has a loneliness at its center, and that loneliness sounds like a single instrument being played against either a stark backdrop of noise or a blank canvas of silence. It's the contrast that comes through, and it's the contrast that creates the feelings of sadness.
Early Morning Migration might not come up to the level of those other artists, but it's plenty sad—in a good way: a way that gives you enough space to think about the world around you and start to ask questions and formulate answers. It's the kind of music that makes it easy for someone like myself to ponder the similarities between deserts and islands, heat and cold, and noise and silence. It's the kind of music that helps me to contemplate the incredibly weird fact that I take it as given that I can watch sporting events unfold from thousands of miles away yet I cannot remember the name of the person across the street from me. This is music that lets me think about stuff like this. It's delicate, quiet, and sad—qualities that are incredibly rare in music these days.
Reviewed by: Michael Heumann
Reviewed on: 2005-06-06