Danish producer Kasper Bjørke takes the listener on an anxiety-ridden journey through a cancer diagnosis with The Fifty Eleven Project.
The Fifty Eleven Project
Kasper Bjørke Quartet
19 October 2018
Without experience, it's impossible to relate to the feeling of almost losing your life. Is it non-stop terror? Is there resignation? Can you go to the grocery store on a Wednesday and not think about death? It's not even near fair to try to give any answers unless you've been there. Just a few weeks before his 35th birthday, Kasper Bjørke, a Danish producer, discovered a tumor. The next five years of his life were packed with doctor visits and blood work and the lifeless touch of cold hospital machinery. Once he got the 'all-clear' from his doctors, he made a plan: make a document that reflected his feelings from the beginning of the process to the end. Bjørke's newest release, The Fifty Eleven Project, is that document. It's a two-hour, mostly ambient, journey into the fragile mind of a human with an uncertain future.
Bjørke is typically associated with music that has a little bump in it. If you put on a random Bjørke track, an ignorant ear would say 'EDM' or 'electronic', and not incorrectly, yet there's quite a bit more. He's pretty playful, and one release to another may swing from pop to serious krautrock to club music. He hasn't worked much in ambient though, so it's a fresh take for him, but the inspiration speaks to the outcome.
The album begins with the most telling song of the album, "Line of Life (Prologue)". It's 12 minutes long, and to these ears, it's the epic in miniature. It begins in a dull drone until finally, a few piano notes crack open the clouds. The two forces battle it out for a while until the drone again takes over and hangs there lifeless and dull for longer than it should. Then, finally, at about the nine-minute mark, the piano comes in forcefully, edging itself in. It takes over the mix, followed by some determined strings that weave throughout. It's a narrative in music, and it's worth a read.
From there on the album is a bag of mixed moods. "Seminom Non Seminom", which gets its name from a type of tumor, is a plodding drone with nothing to offer outside of grayness. Later, "50 11" is a tightly-packed bundle of chords and plucks all anxiety and nerves. It all ends with "The Antiphon (Epilogue)" which is easily the lightest of the bunch, but even so, it's a serious light. The rest of the album is mostly just music hanging there, awaiting something to happen, just as it may have felt to be in Bjørke's situation. Some are obviously sad, while others have a smidgen of joy in them, but they are all laced with anxiety.
Bjørke used music as his refuge during the time he was diagnosed: "I used the music to fall asleep to — and as a sonic space to meditate in and contemplate my journey." He continues on, saying that he hopes others will use The Fifty Eleven Project in the same way. Now, one cannot imagine the anxiety Bjørke may have felt, but personally, a lingering drone crawling from some speakers can give some refuge to this brain. You just have to let it wash over you.