Various Artists

(Modern Obscure)


It’s hardly an original idea that our attention spans are getting shorter. Part blatant observation, part fogeyish accusation, it’s been used a stick to beat the young with for generations, particularly since the internet became a central part of youth culture over the past couple of decades. What’s less familiar though, is the musical celebration of this kinetic lack of concentration, the deliberate use of brevity to attune sound to the tenor and pace of contemporary life. It’s obviously something that TikTok, Quibi, Vine, Snapchat and more have tried to tap into on a formal level, but musicians themselves? Not so much. Listening to PRSNT, this feels like something that’s worth exploring further.

PRSNT is just over six minutes long, and in that time packs in contributions from some of today’s most compelling avant-garde sound artists, spread across 12 30-second tracks. Visible Cloaks’ ‘Lifeworld’ is a gorgeous, crystalline wash of gentle pads and automated voiceover; Lyra Pramuk offers a characteristically striking collage of corkscrewing vocals and lurching synth; Nicolas Godin and Pierre Rousseau meld Palladino bass with tactile percussion and breathy harmonics on ‘Page Turner’; Lafawndah gives us a fleeting glimpse inside the most manic side-room of the club you’ve been missing the most. Best of the lot, though, is the opener, Laurie Spiegel’s ‘Fly By’, a heavenly exhalation of keys, harmonies and reverb during which not a millisecond is wasted. In its half-minute, the texture somehow manages to evolve through phase after phase with the kind of transformative beauty most artists take a full-length album to even gesture towards.

As with any compilation, particularly those wrapped around a great initial idea rather than a more rigid aesthetic theme, some of the contributions work better than others – for example, I get the artistic justification for Ryuichi Sakamoto’s choice of literal silence as his track, but it does feel like a cop-out – but the overall level of skill and the diversity of artistry on show here is remarkable. PRSNT’s tininess, far from restricting the quality of the work it displays, just makes it feel all the more precious.