Small Life Form – One

Small Life Form’s album One has been the single most unique listening experience of my life. It has no contemporaries, no peers. It is in a class all its own. This is because it is also one of the most bizarre albums I’ve ever listened to. Comprised of seven tracks, One is nothing more than an intense sonic project (in the most literal sense of the word) that took the architect, Brian John Mitchell, five years to complete.
You can’t fully understand or appreciate the album without the liner notes, taken verbatim: “The tracks on this recording are designed so they may all be listened to simultaneously while looped. The instruments used on this recording are melodica, trumpet, trombone, voice, Chinese cymbal, floor tom, vera pulsar (via radio telescope), and electronic wind organ. Recorded in real time without overdubs or multi-tracking…”
Clearly Small Life Form is a scientific project as much as it is a creative work (a work that took five years to complete). In fact, I picture Mitchell as more of a mad scientist whiling away the hours in a secluded laboratory than as an impassioned artist pouring his heart into a labor of love. But in the same way, minimalist art found inspiration in efficiently mass-produced consumer products, there are subjective undertones of sheer beauty in this work.
The most outright success is the track “Pulsar.” The liner notes indicate that it is indeed comprised of the sounds emanating from one of those deep space neutron stars as captured through a radio telescope. It sounds a bit like a warped, distant helicopter, although the scope of the frequency range exhibited is far greater than what the earthbound machine is capable of. It is the pure sound of nature at its most exotic and extreme.
The liner notes also imply that the best way to enjoy the album is by listening to different combinations of the tracks simultaneously. Unfortunately, some sort of multitrack audio program is necessary to do so, and most listeners don’t have access to one. But I do, and so after ripping the tracks off the CD and saving them as .wav files (they come as standard .cda audio files, although I feel .wavs should have been provided to simplify the process) I opened my multitrack program and anxiously loaded the .wavs. Unfortunately, each track so thoroughly covers the sonic spectrum that I couldn’t listen to more than two at once (and sometimes not even that) without intense clipping occurring. Now, I admit I don’t have the greatest sound card and speakers in all of Computerdom, but I do have a multitrack program and a lot of patience. There are very few people who have everything necessary to enjoy this album as (I believe) Mitchell intended.
Then again, I’m probably wrong. Not that the album tracks were meant to be enjoyed separately, rather that they weren’t meant to be enjoyed at all, at least in a musical sense. These seven tracks are simply an extraordinary collection of pure walls of sound, thick and full and incredibly intense, deserving of appreciation for the complex process that brought them into existence in the first place.