Essays In Idleness is a translation of Tsurezuregusa, a collection of medieval Japanese essays, penned as streams of consciousness by the monk Yoshida Kenkō. Its casual, thematically miscellaneous nature is a hallmark of zuihitsu literature. In this form, all material is shaped by the author’s environment, be it the immediate, physical atmosphere or the space in which their thoughts are occupied. This is the approach that Christopher Bissonnette adopts for Essays In Idleness, contextually distancing himself from his reputation as a composer that places weight on the interconnectedness of the senses and the relationship between media forms. Bissonnette’s environment is an artificial one, creating with a premise of dissatisfaction towards current trends of gritty, feral and untempered analogue production. Essays In Idleness sees Bissonnette exclusively utilise a self-built analogue synthesiser, critically narrowing his own sound pallette with an all-in attempt to squeeze as much innovation as possible from himself and his tool. Essentially, it’s far from a risky gambit and is more akin to an experiment — or rather the results of Bissonnette’s tests in ambience.
As “Greenish in its Light” patiently opens the album with its slow waking, pensive probing of delicate textures, I’m preoccupied with the alarm bells ringing out in my head. I can’t fathom who the album is for, and why, and my search for existential justification, that our species craves so voraciously, remains unfruitful by the end of the record’s final waltz through harmonics, “Wasting a Little Time”. Bissonnette seems a deft enough manipulator of sound, though as accomplished his sonic craftsmanship appears to be, Essays In Idlenessleaves me none the wiser. The intended audience for experiments is traditionally other scientists or practitioners of the relevant field, and it seems to be a record both by Bissonnette and for Bissonnette — a test of his own ability as well as a gauntlet thrown in spite of producers less gifted in subtlety. The album propagates the esoteric bubble of the science lab, and I’m left peering through the glass at half-formed algebraic equations.
It’s the album’s intention to convey the worth of fully exploring and understanding the tools one possesses to create, as well as the seemingly forgotten art of mastering the instrument of choice. Bissonnette stretches and delves into intricacies organically, shirking the school of thought that keeps things constantly in flux in order to conjure an illusion of evolution. Occasionally, he strikes gold and really impresses, such as on “A Deplorable Corrupt”, an unwinding beacon that picks up a transitory melody as it veers off into the distance. Other times, the tracks can be as perishable as that chord progression, yet absent of its gleaming impressionability. Take “Missing Chapters”, which loses itself in introspection, or “Entanglements”, lingering in stasis — as pretty as they may be, they’re vacuous listens that don’t go anywhere, never mind take the listener along. They’re felt and held onto like a brief moment of gentle breeze amidst a blizzard, acknowledged rather than appreciated. Neither comforting nor healing, they simply exist, unmoving.
Whether Bissonnette’s experimentations are successful in light of his objectives remains unknown to all, save for Bissonnette himself; there’s no way for listeners to discern whether the shortfalls of Essays In Idleness are down to the constraints of the machine, or imperfect vision on the part of the one playing it. It’s a listen that glances more than touches, rarely engaging and largely passive, and as such, the potency of Bissonnette’s findings suffer. Ultimately, he stands apart from contemporaries but fails to stand out. One thing that certainly is clear is Bissonnette’s adeptness with composition and sound generation, discernable from the graceful consistency of the record, most rousing on the riffy soliloquy “Uniformity is Undesirable”. The seamless flow of the release stems from its shyness towards structure, a symptom of Bissonnette’s zuihitsu-like approach, allowing the peaks to occur as genuine surprises to the listener with no build-up of expectations. That said, streams of consciousness aren’t always particularly interesting to follow, with insights and delights few and far between. Essays In Idleness is a shimmering and glistening listen, though its beauty is fleeting and unenlightening. Rarely does the record provoke intuitive emotion or interest, and it’s time pleasantly spent rather than well-spent. Turns out it doesn’t pay all that much to invest so heavily in idleness.
by Tayyab Amin