[28 August 2006]
“This music began in 2004 when my partner Kindon was pregnant with our son Lincoln. A regular part of our visits to the obstetrician was listening to the baby’s heartbeat… As the Doctor narrowed in on the baby there’d be a distinct rapid and watery throb. I recorded these sounds on Mini Disc and Kindon and I would look at each other and smile like idiots.”
Those two little words represent the entire point of For Waiting, for Chasing, the latest release from Labradford primary Mark Nelson’s Pan•American project. Every single track contains at least one sample of Nelson’s son Lincoln’s prenatal hearbeat, just as every single track oozes with the love that the elder Nelson harbors for his young son. The cover art consists of blurred photographs, presumably of Lincoln himself, lovely in the implicit, constant, random motion that the out-of-focus pictorial implies.
Now, normally, one would expect an album dedicated to the birth of the artist’s child to be one filled with unbridled joy and a high potential for saccharine. This is not the case with For Waiting, for Chasing. Instead, what we hear is the sound of a deeper sort of love—not the superficial, “golly, things are great” sort of love, but a love that comes from understanding. This is a love borne of hard work and deep commitment, of insular beauty rather than outward displays of familial affection. Little Lincoln’s heartbeat is at least as prominent on album opener “Love Song” as it is anywhere else on the album, couched in static but insistent as a heartbeat should be, amongst other skittery bits of static, pushed to the foreground on a cloud of flugelhorn and organ. As the static (and the flugelhorn) fades away, tibetan singing bowls come to the fore, ringing, hanging, waiting, as distant conversations appear and disappear without notice. It’s like an aural approximation of the inside-the-womb experience, as alien and discomforting as it is also hauntingly beautiful.
And then… birth.
The sound completely opens up in “Are You Ready?”, finding lovely synthesizer chords battling a vaguely tonal distorted guitar for soundspace, light beginning to peer through the oppressive darkness. Sound bleeds into wonder, which itself bleeds into light, and the sensory overload inspired in the listener by the unidentifiable instrumentation of this “song” could well drive a new parent to tears of reminiscence.
After “Are You Ready?” is where things get a little bit foggy. Much of the middle of For Waiting, for Chasing sounds just as beautiful, hushed, and purposeful as those first two tracks, but these tracks don’t carry with them the sense of near-visual that “Love Song” and “Are You Ready?” do. The bass rumbles and vague percussion of “From Here” (still underneath a softened-but-still-staticky take on that heartbeat) is enough to raise an eyebrow, but it feels oddly directionless. Perhaps this is the onset of routine, no less important than the events that led to it, but ultimately less unique. Even as evocative and slightly bizarre as a title like “The Penguin Speaks” is, the constant washes of synth provoke little in the way of awestruck wonder or sublime beauty.
Ah, but Nelson quickly sets straight any of his more meandering tendencies by finishing with “Amulls”, striking mostly for the presence of a piano that remarkably has not been run through some sort of sound manipulation filter. The piano lines build throughout the song, the slow realization of a beauty that has been there all along, the sound of the overflowing of emotion when you wake up one day and realize that your child has been on this earth for some time, and that child is growing, and developing, and gaining a personality, and laughing as if there was nothing to fear.
With ambient music, context doesn’t mean everything, but some familiarity with the context in which that music was created can help in the quest to appreciate it. The context of For Waiting, for Chasing is near to my own heart, and, looking above, it’s easy to see where I’ve transposed my own feelings regarding parenthood and child-rearing onto the music that Mr. Nelson provides. The mileage you get out of the album may, too, depend on how well you can relate to Nelson’s source of inspiration, but that’s not to say that such experience is necessary to appreciate Nelson’s artistry. On its own merits, For Waiting, for Chasing is a lovely bit of inoffensive ambience, constrasting static with the organic. That the context adds to the experience is merely a pleasant byproduct of Nelson’s admirable intentions.