- The final instalment of a profound ambient project.
- "I think I'm coming to the end of The Caretaker," Leyland Kirby said in 2016. "I just can't see where I can take it after this." The sound artist had just announced an ambitious six-part series, stretching over three years, that would spell the end of The Caretaker. For Everywhere At The End Of Time, Kirby "diagnosed" the project with Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. Each instalment charts the descent of Kirby's best-known musical persona into the ravages of Alzheimer's, which Kirby has called "this generation's health challenge now as we extend the lifespan possibly beyond our design."
Everywhere At The End Of Time's first three volumes cover familiar musical ground, almost like a recap of The Caretaker's past work. Crackly, century-old big band and ballroom songs are presented in their entirety. After a time, the mood turns ominous. But in subsequent parts Kirby brings The Caretaker into agonizing new realms. These latter volumes attempt to capture the "post-awareness" stages, the point at which the patient no longer realizes they have a problem. The music becomes unstable and patience-testing. Kirby has called Everywhere At The End Of Time's last three stages an attempt at making "listenable chaos."
By Stage Six, this approach reaches a harrowing peak. On the opener, "Confusion So Thick You Forget Forgetting," foreboding drones dominate. Snatches of music are hidden by obfuscating layers on "Long Decline Is Over," where the music remains frustratingly out of reach—at times you can sense it's there, but it's impossible to make out. "A Brutal Bliss Beyond This Empty Defeat," a swirl of repetitive noises and discordant notes, is a portrait of complete chaos and confusion. It seems designed to drive the listener to madness.
Everywhere At The End Of Time's length lends it a unique force. The four tracks on Stage Six are not so much sad as upsetting, and they last upwards of 20 minutes at a time. This forces the listener to come to terms with what Alzheimer's entails. When considering the six-hour length of the project, it becomes truly overwhelming. In a mental descent rendered in agonizingly slow motion, the listener experiences every minute change until everything is reduced to a dull, grey mush.
The lengths Kirby goes to in conveying this descent into Alzheimer's is captivating. You might find yourself returning to the final chapters to hear the finer points in the music, which involved a painstaking process that took hundreds of hours of manipulation and experimentation to get right. Blurring the boundary between music and sound art, Kirby turns ambient music, amorphous and indistinct, into a wrenching emotional device. The foggier the music becomes, the richer it gets.
When asked whether he might be "aestheticizing" mental illness, Kirby said that he "respects" the subject of dementia too much to do so. (Kirby has previously addressed Alzheimer's in his music with 2011's An Empty Bliss Beyond This World.) The idea for Everywhere At The End Of Time sprang, he says, from his intense curiosity on the subject. In turn, the series is a careful and sometimes awed exploration of the effects of Alzheimer's. By putting the listener in the place of someone who is losing their mind, Everywhere At The End Of Time translates something unimaginable through a more easily understood medium: the manipulation and decay of recorded sound.
The closing track, "Place In The World Fades Away," ends the series with one final drone. Then, 15 minutes in, it stops. You hear distant strains of piano and singing, but the sudden change of tone suggests that what is being portrayed is a kind of oblivion. It is meaningless and flattening, akin to the blank canvas on Stage Six's cover. As the music fades into nothing, the listener is left to reckon with what Alzheimer's wreaks on all of its victims.
01. Confusion So Thick You Forget Forgetting
02. A Brutal Bliss Beyond This Empty Defeat
03. Long Decline Is Over
04. Place In The World Fades Away