Yann Novak - The Future is a Forward Escape into the Past

CD - 4 tracks - 41:28
Gatefold ekopak + full album download

Track listing:

1. Radical Transparency
2. The Inertia of Time
3. Casting Ourselves Back into the Past
4. Nothing Ever Transcends its Immediate Environment

All tracks composed and recorded by Yann Novak in Los Angeles 2017
Vocal sample on "Nothing Ever Transcends its Immediate Environment" by Geneva Skeen
Photography & design by Jon Wozencroft
Mastered by Lawrence English at 158

‘The Future is a Forward Escape Into the Past’ is the latest album by Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist and composer Yann Novak, and his second for Touch. It considers the relationships between memory, time, and context through four vibrantly constructed tracks that push Novak’s work in a new direction while simultaneously exploring his sonic past. ‘The Future is a Forward Escape Into the Past’ is composed as a quadriptych – a single gesture broken into four parts – that meditates on the inevitable progression of time, our relationship to the past, and our distortion of the past through the imperfections of memory. The album will be released February 23, 2018 on the London-based label Touch. Available digitally and on CD, the physical version will be packaged in a gatefold sleeve as a limited edition of 500. For more information on the artist and release, please visit www.touch33.net.

The album’s conceptual roots stem from ‘The Archaic Revival’ by American ethnobotanist and psychonaut Terence McKenna. In it, McKenna theorizes that when a culture becomes dysfunctional it attempts to revert back to a saner moment in its own history. He suggested that abstract expressionism, body piercing and tattooing, psychedelic drug use, sexual permissiveness, and rave culture were proof of this default to a more primal time. The text’s idealism was influential to Novak in the ‘90s, but today the theory bears a darkly-veiled resemblance to the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the signifiers of a ‘better time’ – McKenna’s idea highlights our propensity for selective memory, seeing history through the lens of memory instead of fact. On ‘The Future is a Forward Escape Into the Past’ Novak looked back at his own older works through this lens as inspiration.

“For this album I was interested in expanding into a more emotive compositional style and palette. In doing so, I was reminded that this was territory I had covered early on in my career — the whole process became a way to reconnect with my own past and history.”

The Album’s four tracks dynamically shift and surge, where time is rendered as material and momentum compels it into movement. Subtle distortion throughout the album ties the tracks together and echoes techniques explored in Novak’s ‘Meadowsweet’ (Dragon’s Eye, 2006). Tension gives way to a halcyon vision of place in “Radical Transparency,” immediately followed by the austere swells of “The Inertia of Time,” a piece that captures the twin impulse of generating optimistic beauty in harshly muted tones. Both tracks introduce subtle bass swells and stabs reminiscent of ‘In Residence’ (Dragon’s Eye, 2008). From there, the album grows darker with “Casting Ourselves Back into the Past,” and “Nothing Ever Transcends its Immediate Environment,” two icier tracks that preserve the album’s core: a layer of something long since passed that locks us into the very moment we inhabit. The latter introduces a processed vocal sample of Geneva Skeen, similar to Novak’s collaborative work with Marc Manning on ‘Pairings’ (Dragon’s Eye, 2007). The album is a study in perception and alteration, manipulation and awareness, effectively capturing Novak’s command of emotional texturing.

Reviews:

Touching Extremes:

A sentence in the press release contains a pivotal clue. [Yann Novak’s] “work is guided by his interests in perception, context, movement, and the felt presence of direct experience”.

Direct experience is the prime counsellor in one’s aliveness, well beyond the hypocrisy of sinisterly inadequate “divine” guidelights. This simple fact should be obvious to any individual whose encephalon has not been rented to someone else’s infirmity. However, it is the concept of “felt presence” that is crucial here. As always we’re dealing with the essential, if inexplicable murmur of deep-rooted awareness which seems to frighten so many credulous specimens.

The stochastic recurrence of an event; the “infinite repeat” mode of the sea waves; the frequency that – among millions – causes the mind to freeze and the heart to slow down almost to a standstill. Just three examples of the aforementioned “felt presence”. How can anyone explain that to people in dire need of being lulled into psychological coma by recycled narratives about extramundane maths and featureless entities acting as impeccable draughtsmen of nothingness?

You can’t. There’s no time left to waste with neurologically induced nonsense. As frequently stressed on these pages, certain levels of inward discernment must be respected by their blessed owners (who, too often, throw away the gift received at birth for unhealthy ego-inflating purposes).

Novak chases the opportunity of a privileged observation between the varying stages of an actual process of growth. He does it by assembling resonant materials that put a pragmatic listener in the condition of probing unthinkable depths, in this case starting from a theory by ethnobotanist Terence McKenna (you are cordially invited to do your homework).

In strictly sonic terms this is an exemplary instance of static subtlety, intermittently (and coincidentally) reminiscent of Keith Berry and Klaus Wiese’s analogous sonorities. A commendable balance gradually revealing shrouded details, inaccessible elements of continuity linking the parts in an affecting sequence. The acoustic modules combine field recordings with subsurface oscillations, trans-harmonic cyclicalness, moderate interference and human samples. It’s the symbolization of a trek outside the body limits while standing – firmly conscious – on the ground of the circumjacent materiality.

A final and somewhat expectable warning: do not use, and do not categorize this substance as “ambient”. It would be an authentic offense to the composer’s painstaking accuracy in rendering the phases of apprehension clearly particularized by the audible matter. Paraphrasing the album’s title, Novak challenges the average being’s exigency to envision the “excuse of future” as a method to flee from the responsibilities of the present. In other words, the “here and now” of Buddhist descent – so voguish in places where the talk is talked without walking the walk – is still too troublesome a proposition for vanquishing corporeal and psychogenic obligations once and for all.

Boomkat (UK):

Dragon’s Eye Recordings proprietor Yann Novak unfurls a mesmerising, meditative suite of processed field recordings on Touch. Imagine the elegant protagonist of Richard Chartier’s Pinkcourtesyphone took a stroll at dusk with Biosphere in the L.A. ‘burbs…

Rockerilla (Italy):

L’artista statunitense Yann Novak
si cimenta in un progetto artistico ispirato alle teorie dello psiconauta e studioso di etnobotanica Terence McKenna. Egli a erma che quando un civiltà ha il suo declino culturale questa tenda ad inseguire un mitico passato della propria storia. A suo modo Novak scava nei suoi ricordi riconoscendo anche quanto alcuni di essi possano essere non proprio a ni alla realtà ma mutati dal cervello e dal personale carattere. Qui si ascolta ambient dronica e, se da una parte è di buona compagnia, dall’altra è uno dei tanti titoli che potrebbe essere interscambiabile con un altro senza che ci si possa accorgere di alcuna di erenza. PIACEVOLE ACCADEMIA. [Gianluca Polverari]

VITAL (Netherlands):

It has been a while since I last heard music by Yann Novak, as long ago as Vital Weekly 881, but I see (on Discogs) other releases that have been released by Dragon’s Eye Recordings (his own label), Eter,
Line and a previous album by Touch in 2016. Here is his second release for Touch of which the “conceptual roots stem from ‘The Archaic Revival’ by American ethnobotanist and psychonaut Terence McKenna’, in which he claims that if things go bad in a culture it wants to go back to a saner moment in its own history, which perhaps has very much to do with the times we live in, with all the nostalgia of ‘our culture is the best one, but the past of that culture was even better, now getting to lost…’ (Fill in whatever enemy you prefer’ doing its rounds worldwide. Novak goes back to his own musical past and make (re-) connections again with sounds and techniques he used before on his older works and how to put that into the new work. This is, mind you, not a remix of course of old stuff. The four pieces of drone music here are however something that I would expect from Novak. These computer-generated drones built up like deep organ tones, reach a climax and then go via a likewise slow ascend down again. In between these pieces there are field recordings, especially at the end of the opening ‘Radical Transparency’, or at the beginning of ‘The Inertia Of Time’, which follows after that; each of the four pieces seem to merge right into next one, giving the album an excellent flow. Novak’s special feature, a very refined yet effective distortion is present in all these pieces; one should not think of this as something heavy or noisy, but a gentle, brittle touch that has been carried out to all of these pieces, a rough edge to gentle drones. I am not sure if it is enough to say that Novak really does his own version of microsound, but he produces music with some fine delicacy that is just different enough for me. Some very meditative stuff here for sure. [FdW]

Nitestylez (Germany):

Put on the circuit via Touch on February 23rd, 2k18 is "The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past", the latest album effort by Los Angeles-based composer Yann Novak which also is his second release on the label. Split into four pieces and stretched over an overall playtime of approx. 41 minutes this limited to 500 copies release, influenced by Terrence McKenna's "The Archaic Revival", caters a study in carefully crafted Ambient / Deep Listening Music, incorporating genre typical, slowly moving pads and shifting dynamics as well as tweeting birds and Field Recordings present in the opening tune "Radical Transparency" which seamlessly transfers into "The Inertia Of Time" which combines an underlying layer of uproar from either a faraway ocean wave breach or the very beginning of the universe with carefully layered strings, beautiful atmospheres of droning intensity and static crackles. "Casting Ourselves Back Into The Past" drifts away into a realm subfrequent movements, continuos crackles and icy winds before "Nothing Ever Transcends Its Immediate Environment" takes Ambient to a more vibrating, yet fragile and partly unsettling level, emitting oscillating frequencies that make glass jangle and cause thoughts to dissolve. Not necessarily a highly innovative release in terms of Deep Listening Music but still recommended for die-hard diggers or those looking for an entry point into their personal exploration of the genre.

Fluid Radio (UK):


Music and politics — what could sit together more easily? From the rousing patriotic hymns of emerging 19th-century nations, through the provocative ballads of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, to Stormzy’s Grenfell-themed ad lib at the recent BRIT Awards ceremony, music has long been seen as a potent political force. From the titles and press blurb for Yann Novak’s “The Future is a Forward Escape into the Past”, it would seem that the Los Angeles-based artist is intent on making his own critical statement on “the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism” he sees in his native United States — but can he make his ambient drone weapons pointy enough to do damage?

‘Radical Transparency’ kicks things off with a very gradual fade-in, a low rumble joined by vague, tonally-indistinct chords. Rough noise is unexpectedly juxtaposed with melodious birdsong, but is this the assertive, truthful voice of Mother Earth, or a false ‘harking back’ to a mythical primeval oneness with nature? The birdsong continues into the next track, where a solid rush of air comes and goes and organ-like chords crack round the edges. In ‘Casting Ourselves Back into the Past’ another rush of air sounds like a jet plane passing overhead, except it doesn’t pass — it hangs there in the sky, burning fuel yet motionless, as faint, indistinct tones glimmer with azure. Final piece ‘Nothing Ever Transcends its Immediate Environment’ is an urgent one, tugging on the sleeve with its buzzing tones and grave, wordless vocal intonations.

Novak certainly seems to be aiming for a political ambient music, but the music’s abstraction (or sometimes its concreteness, as with the birdsong) perhaps poses a challenge when it comes to making specific statements, leaving the titles to do much of the work. However, this indefiniteness may well be the most honest approach to take in an era where the line between truth and falsehood is constantly being blurred by all comers, and where the longer you look at a situation, the more complex and entangled it appears. “The Future is a Forward Escape” echoes the vague disquiet and unease that seem to be constantly murmuring in the background of our everyday hypermediated lives. In refusing to allow us to settle on false certainties, whether nostalgic or utopic in nature, perhaps political ambient can be a powerful affective force after all.[Nathan Thomas]

ambientblog (UK):

Before listening to this new Yann Novak album – his second title for Touch -, it’s good to reflect a bit on its somewhat enigmatic title.

“The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past considers the relationships between memory, time and context. […] The album’s conceptual roots stem from ‘The Archaic Revival‘ by American ethnobotanist and psychonaut Terence McKenna. In it, McKenna theorizes that when a culture becomes dysfunctional it attempts to revert back to a saner moment in its own history. The text’s idealism was influential to Novak in the ‘90s, but today the theory bears a darkly-veiled resemblance to the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism. […] McKenna’s idea highlights our propensity for selective memory, seeing history through the lens of memory instead of fact.“

The impact of Novak’s music is coloured by the context of this philosophical background. The overall atmosphere in these four parts (the album is best played in one continuous sequence) is dark and sombre – which may very well be my own personal association with ‘the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism’.
But at the same time you can listen in a completely different way, realising that Novak “looks back at his own older works though this (McKenna’s) lens as inspiration”.
Or, if you prefer, you can have your own associations with these timeless deep drone tracks combining sub-bass with subtly detailed distorted effects and some distant fieldrecordings – a sound that seems to originate from an immeasurable vast space too big to comprehend.

“The album is a study in perception and alteration, manipulation and awareness, effectively capturing Novak’s command of emotional texturing.“

Sodapop (Italy):

Yann Novak è un musicista e curatore di mostre e già dai primi minuti di questo disco lo si può chiaramente intuire: la ambient scura di The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past, in pieno stile delle migliori uscite Touch, ha quel gusto “museale” che fa emergere il suono dal sottofondo di accompagnamento per portarlo in primo piano, magari accompagnato da elementi multimediali. Si tratta invece di sola musica, concepita a partire da una interessante rilettura del pensiero di Terence McKenna: le sue tesi degli anni novanta secondo cui una società si trova a guardare indietro quando è in decadenza sono interessanti, ma oggi più che orientare verso un neo primitivismo fanno pensare ad una rilettura che porta a nuovi nazionalismi… e il panorama si fa tetro. Disco allegro in effetti questo non lo è, con la sua quarantina di minuti di campioni cristallini e incedere lento ma costante: niente di nuovo nel campo della sound art e della ambient più “concreta”, ma la qualità di queste registrazioni è davvero sopraffina e ben sopra la media delle produzioni che trovate in giro. Un aspetto interessante è quello che i quattro brani, sempre in relazione alle tesi di McKenna, sono basati su una rilettura del passato musicale dello stesso Novak: ciò aggiunge benzina al tema della rielaborazione del pensiero e della musica attraverso il tempo, ma questi aspetti possono anche essere tranquillamente ignorati e si può fare spazio alla musica, che da sola la fa da padrona in questo gran bel disco. [Emiliano Grigis]

Souterraine (France):

L’inevitabile progressione del tempo, il rapporto tra l’uomo e il passato, la distorsione della memoria. Temi estrapolati da “The Archaic Revival” (1991) di Terence McKenna, la cui teoria verte sulla c.d. funzionalità di una cultura: una volta esauritasi, tenderebbe a imporsi una sorta di ritorno nostalgico, il medesimo in atto, ad esempio, nel quadro dei nazionalismi contemporanei. “The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past” (2018), via Touch, fa perno sul testo dell’etnobotanista statunitense, un ottimo punto di partenza per Yann Novak che, con quattro lunghi brani, compie il suo percorso a ritroso all’interno di materiali pregressi. L’artista recupera, inoltre, il concetto di ‘memoria selettiva’, cioè rileggere la storia attraverso una propria lente d’ingrandimento, a discapito dei fatti. L’album si pone, dunque, come il tentativo, a metà strada tra ragione e sentimento, di sintetizzare in un unicum differenti frammenti sonori. Straordinario il risultato finale.

Igloo (USA):

Taking from drone, musique concrète, found sound and electroacoustic music, the Dragon’s Eye man’s recorded fields are laptopped and trailed into sonorous stases that seem to stem from the liminal to an ineffable occluded vastness.

In which Yann Novak muses on ‘the inevitable progression of time, our relationship to the past, and our distortion of the past through the imperfections of memory,’ themes extrapolated from re-visions of US psychonaut Terence McKenna. The Future is a Forward Escape into the Past (Touch) references that ‘cyclone of unorthodox ideas capable of lifting almost any brain out of its cognitive Kansas’ (Tom Robbins) whose The Archaic Revival (1991), an old trip transmission made theory, sees the functionality of a culture, once exhausted, as tending towards a sort of nostalgic reversion. New skin for the old ceremony of memory curated by Novak, and a point of departure to make his way back into the heart of his material.

Abstract expressionism, body piercing and tattooing, psychedelic drug use, sexual permissiveness, rave culture… That was then. This is now: making sense in the present tense at the dead end of late modernity, the artist recovers the concept of ‘selective memory’, re-reading history through its own magnifying glass. ‘Expanding into a more emotive compositional style and palette,’ the artist finds reconnection with his own past, reminded this was territory covered earlier, ‘looks back at his own older works though this lens as inspiration,’ seeking to syncretize reason and emotion, to synthesize different sonic fragments into a whole. Taking from drone, musique concrète, found sound and electroacoustic music, the Dragons Eye man’s recorded fields are laptopped and trailed into sonorous stases that seem to stem from the liminal to an ineffable occluded vastness; chthonic sub-bass and tone-mass shift and surge under distortion grain and echo revenance. With a stillpoint of focus on the moment, from within come slow reveals, elements linking parts in sequence—fields with substrative oscillations, trans-harmonic cyclicity, discreet interference, animate samples.

For all Novak views his materials as affordance structures for mindfulness of the present, exhorting to ‘reclaim the present moment as a political act,’ the music, more coded than loaded, bespeaks différance. But while posties may fly free semiotically, no hors-du-texte (hi, Jacques), talk of ‘darkly-veiled resemblance to the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism’ suggests we take it outside. Seen as if through a glass darkly, its quadriptych is spread for a heavy freight of significance: “Radical Transparency,” “The Inertia of Time,” “Casting Ourselves Back into the Past,” “Nothing Ever Transcends its Immediate Environment” — titles turn into takes on what to make of the opaque. The Future is a Forward Escape… resounds with the hum of disquiet at the back of everyday hyperreality. [Alan Lockett]



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