Imagine, if you can, the enormity of space – not the stars, but the space between the stars: the darkness, the cold, the silence. And then imagine, if you can, something moving somewhere around you, rumbling at first and then crashing, exploding: flames and rocks hitting something dead and barren, somewhere in the middle of the nothingness. And then imagine, if you can, the cosmic debris catapulted, drifting endlessly and forever in the vast emptiness, and the silence returning amidst an infinite expanse of emptiness.
Imagine it, if you can. And, if you can’t, listen to Nurse With Wound’s Space Music – because that, like nothing else, will tell you what it’s like.
Often, when we think of space, we think of the billions upon billions of things that live and grow and die within it – stars, and planets, and moons. Galaxies, and asteroids, and comets. But, really, most of space is empty – incomprehensibly vast stretches of nothing, other than the distant glimmers of stars, or of stardust, that pulsate faintly now and then through the soft, strange hum of silence.
And that’s the space of Space Music. Nurse With Wound have almost always done incredibly interesting things with their music, right from when they released their surrealist debut album Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella in 1979. But Space Music, commissioned by the Melbourne Planetarium, came 30 years later, and is a very different piece of music altogether.
While Chance Meeting abounds with strange, disconnected sounds, with music untimely ripped from its mother’s womb, unsettled, on edge, Space Music spends most of its 55 minutes hanging in suspension, moving imperceptibly, infinitesimally, with only the subtlest shifts of colour and light floating across the cosmos.
The music is very, very cleverly structured. Its first few minutes, like most of the rest of it, are thin electronic drones – cosmic noise, if you like – but with the persistent hint of something breaking, cracking, beneath the surface. And then you get the explosion – asteroids assaulting a planet, perhaps – sounds that can and do destroy speakers if you’ve let the quiet of the opening minutes lull you, and your volume knob, into too much complacency.
It’s a shattering effect, and you never really recover from it. No matter how many times you listen to Space Music, no matter how well you know what’s coming and that, for the rest of the music, everything stays quiet with only the barest hints of disturbance every now and then – no matter how well you know all of this, the music leaves you nervous, waiting for the unexpected, utterly at the mercy of the vast and empty space around you.
And yet the music is somehow always on the move. Beneath it there is always an unsteady, unquiet, rumble. Above it there is always a thin drone that gives birth to another thin drone, and then to another, and then fades away.
Space Music needs your attention. You have to absorb yourself in it, listen to those subtle shifts of light and colour, allow yourself to be carried away by the subspace rumble, and let yourself be taken to wherever the ‘subliminal effects’, of which the album cover warns you, want to take you.
Otherwise, if you just listen to it casually, you might scarcely notice it, like when you glance up at the stars on a clear, cloudless night, and miss seeing all that deep and wonderful blackness in between.