Maria Konnikova, for The New Yorker, reported recently on a study done last year at Teikyo University in Tokyo, where mice were given open heart surgery to different scores: silence, Verdi, Mozart, Enya, or a constant frequency between a 120,000 hertz. The unlucky mice operated on in “silence,” or the low boil terror of the ambient noise of a hospital, had complications, but those that heard the classical or the new age turned out just fine. Konnikova writes: “Music with a four-four tempo, which corresponds closely to a normal heart rate, can help regulate heart rate, circulation, and breathing. Lyrical melodies and rhythms of about sixty to eighty beats a minute, which is common to much classical music and bird song, can stimulate relaxation and alpha brain waves, a type of pattern associated with wakeful relaxation.”
Usually I have a hard time getting any sleep on a train, but a couple of days ago I was so exhausted I almost slept through my stop. Three and a half hours earlier, I put on The Field’s new record, Cupid’s Head, which put me into the sort of state described above: not quite wakeful relaxation, but the feeling of sinking into yourself and letting your extremities go numb, closing your eyes and breathing slowly, not trying to meditate or sleep but somewhere in between. You open your eyes every five or six minutes, everything seems alien and super saturated, but you’re not disoriented, just calmly enjoying the small novelty of seeing something else in shapes and colors that have long been exhausted. I felt like a sly faux-Buddha counting my breaths imagining myself in the lotus position with pizza by my sneakers. After maybe 40 minutes, I passed out.
Not all these songs are in 4/4 like his earlier records, but there isn’t an artist more capable than Axel Wilner of making true homeopathic music. In six years he’s made four flawless records as The Field, of minimal techno, often using very brief vocal fragments or circuitous sonic textures that cycle and gradually morph over nine or 10 minutes, with a steady, insistent 4/4 heartbeat. Most of his songs are based on one or two major ideas. From his debut, From Here We Go Sublime, to Cupid’s Head, Wilner’s songs have gotten murkier and multi-geared, less immediately shiny happy, and more murky and complex, but never without that throbbing pulse of ecstatic clarity that’s more than life-affirming, it’s practically pharmacological on its own. Forget taking E to this. There’s so much boring music in the world that you need to take drugs to enjoy, but all of The Field’s records hit an emotional, physiological nerve in me, whose effect is as tangible as any substance, any medicine. Wilner’s use of smooth, distant seeming textural collages and a pop star’s ear for melody, and that heartbeat, make it impossible not to sink into the world and the state of blissful hypnosis his layers of loops and sonic characters. The aesthetic he’s developed is utilized so effortlessly on Cupid’s Head that there’s not much else I can besides the man is a genius. I mean it, this is more than easy listening, it’s philanthropic.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1992