JOHN DUNCAN – The Keening Towers


The concept behind this music is so high, it could possibly be over many people’s heads if not caught appropriately. Soundtrack to an installation made in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2003 and well described in the CD booklet, “The keening towers” is John Duncan’s way to approach the hard-to-talk-about topic of infant abuse. Using exclusively children’s voices as a source, John created a soundscape which people can rack their brain on, trying unsuccessfully to find something similar in avantgarde music’s recent history; Ligeti’s “Lux Aeterna” could be a sonic comparison – just to give a faint idea. Children’s voices mill around without a fixed place, like in a subterranean yet airy chorale; treated vocal components bring clucking, breathing and moaning upon a constantly changing wall of notes, at times sounding like a takeoff or a brainstorm, broken twice by several minutes of a screaming kid into a “repeat” delay, the result like a crazed flock of seagulls. When confronted with this almost primal scream, we desperately try to get a grip on our stricken nerves but it’s just clutching at straws: we have to face the hard reality of not being able to do nothing. Freezing emotions out of the being doesn’t work, as one is submerged by them and comes out as if baptized in their own silent sorrow. As far as the composition is concerned, nary a moment in this piece finds us stopping and thinking about the process: the listener’s just overwhelmed and nailed to the seat by John’s vision, so strong that he never looks like jumping tracks to catch the air, instead using a single element to its maximum effect: the economy of means becomes a fundamentally rich sound environment. All of a sudden, the idea of a full-fledged ongoing quest for a radical departure from the ordinary materializes, to achieve extraordinary results: in the land of “a-dime-a-dozen” button-pushing dronescapers whose music races to stand still, being a witness to the constant evolution of John Duncan’s parable is like encountering that one rare person you could find an affinity to; there’s the strong urge to tell it around – nevertheless it’s probably best kept into your heart.


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