I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a flotation tank. The first time I used one, initially I was freaked. I was starkers, locked in, lights out. There was no new age muzak. It was just me, buoyed by this fluid I could barely feel – and all the shit going around in my head. The tank was located in a basement in Hammersmith and my brain was full of bustle pretty much like the street above. Fucking worries and distractions, gotta keep busy, busy, busy. You know, I`d be thinking about all the bills I had to pay, all the money I owed, all the stuff I had to do the minute I was dry and dressed….and then, eventually after I`d exhausted myself bouncing all this nonsense around the inside of my noggin…I was thinking nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was in there 2 hours, which could have been 5 minutes, could have been a day. Without the rubbish we are conditioned to stress about, time had either stopped, or had no meaning. This record, Jonny Nash and Suzanne Kraft’s A Heart So White, at this particular point in human history, made me feel exactly the same.
I was walking to dog, and dictating a review into my phone – as has been my method since my wife bought the 40kilo brute. I mean I knew it was gonna be “ambient”, because Jonny`s such a gentle fellow – I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting Suzanne / Diego. But keys began wheezing, softly – piano and guitar notes emerged, sensitively improvised – and I thought man this is gonna be hard. I`m “alone” a lot. I have the luxury of a ton of time to monitor my own mental health, and of course, if there are cracks, now for sure is when they’re gonna show. I get up every morning, in the middle of nowhere in the Japanese mountains, hours before my kids, and think, Rob if you’re feeling ropey, imagine how fucking awful everyone else must be feeling – and I remember that scene in the second season of True Detective (this is something I continually go back to like a mantra) when Ray Velcoro pleads with his ex-wife “I`m a good man”, and she replies, “You were a good man when things were good”. And that’s the test baby, to be a good man when things are bad.
So like everyone else on the planet I’ve got all the anxieties of the world going down the pan spinning round in my head – I’ve also got my bank chasing me over the mortgage, and HMRC asking where my tax return is. Some business it appears continues as normal. The 9 tracks on A Heart So White are playing, whispering, “Shuuuush” – not tunes so much as atmospheres – a la Eno, and of course Jonny`s mentor in minimalism, Gigi Masin – and I’m fighting it. My notes read something like, “Piano, guitar, Harmonium (?), more piano, guitar, harmonium (?)”. “How am I gonna get the kids to study?” But by track 4, just like the flotation tank, I`d surrendered, and was no longer making mental lists of emails I “had to” send. Sunlight was strobing on my eyelids, as if I were slowly waking from a dream. The ambient hum of the room / studio where it was recorded itself was an instrument – summoning a sense of illumination and space with which those keys conversed. That pipe organ`s “wheeze”` – poised between a traditional woodwind and a yoga master`s breathing – sounded a lot like a low sustained “Om”. The perhaps central piece, Knife, stretched from sparse notes on the Steinway. These joined by guitar. Six-strings securing a more complete melody – hitting highs as they knocked on nirvana’s front door. All the while there was a percussive tap, tap, tap, on the horizon, creating a counterpoint of 3 separate voices. A trio that gradually converged into one unified song. Circuits bleeping and buzzing beneath their calm.
By the time I reached the sampled stream on the closing Some Water, I wasn’t thinking about the bank, HMRC, or the pandemic. If I was Iggy Stooge, I`d say I was “O-minded”. Maybe not quite serene, but de-bugged and re-booted. Ready, once more to do battle with the machine.
Inspired in part by Spanish author Javier Marías` novel of the same name** – a mediation on family, marriage love and loss – Jonny Nash and Suzanne Kraft’s A Heart So White is available to pre-order from Melody As Truth.
To further ease you through these days of furrowed brows the duo have also made their track, Breath Chant, free to download. It`s a 3 minute edit of this 30 minute epic – sent with “love and positivity”. Enjoy.
*It`s actually a mechanical drawer organ – by pipe organ scans better.
** Wiki searches on Javier turn up the interesting info that his dad was a philosopher – imprisoned then exiled to the US for opposing Franco – while his Mum’s brother was Jesus Franco – director of Vampyros Lesbos.