Music for Music: Time Falling
The Mindful Pleasures of Time Falling
By Dan Ursini ©2020
Time Falling by Dutch composer Michel van der Aa is filled with mindful pleasures. This indie/alt-pop release on the Disquiet label deals with alternate realities, soul travel, and remote states of mind. It is also about fast cars, horrible accidents, and the deliberate pursuit of danger. And it delivers in abundance.
Though Van der Aa has often worked in classical/opera, his compositional reach here extends from perfectly-crafted electronica to pop and folk and a cappella choir. He creates pop music with a natural rocker’s impulse for strong grooves and hooks, but he writes difficult and captivating melodies.
Contributions by the Netherlands Chamber Choir—a distinguished group whose repertoire goes back to the Middle Ages—are a highlight of the album. Also joining Van der Aa on this project is a superb singer, Kate Miller-Heidke, who has partnered with him in the past. She trained in opera as a soprano. Her career includes a remarkable world music trifecta: she has performed at Coachella, the New York Metropolitan Opera, and Eurovision—she was Australia’s entry last year.
Miller-Heidke’s approach as a vocalist is note-perfect, understated yet passionate. She interprets Van Der Aa’s innately lyrical music in ways that often yield gorgeous results, whether it is in “What A Dream”—a folk song of serene charm—or “Identical Hands”—a complex composition with inspired choral writing and a very challenging lead vocal. Her unaffected delivery of the lyrics is spot-on in portraying the part of a young woman with a rarefied appetite for destruction.
While out for a drive one evening, this character is involved in a bad collision. She senses time slowing down. Van Der Aa explains that she “sees flashes of her own death; but then, in recoiling from the impact, her sense of time and space returns. She, however, laments her loss of timeless space, crashing the car continually to regain her place between life and death, where she longs to remain.”
While Time Falling is not a straight narrative, the songs detail the psychic journeys of her restless spirit during these catapulting near-death episodes. Much inspiration came from the work of Jorge Luis Borges, the visionary Argentine author. Van der Aa says, “I share his fascination with multiple realities, mirrors, and labyrinths.”
“The Aleph” uses excerpts from Borges’ acclaimed short story “El aleph,” which deals with the notion that there is a point in space called the Aleph. All other points can be found inside it. The music employs elegantly layered polyrhythms, as a beguiling vocal by Kate Miller-Heidke slowly floats across the top. It has been released as a single with an excellent video.
Likewise, there is a compelling story video for another single release, “I Dream of Fire.”
Here and throughout, the album is imbued by a dreaminess that is by turns lyrical and rarefied, brooding and anxious. It is divided by rough-edged, troubling passages. The whole of it is animated by considerable rhythmic and harmonic tension. During “Mirrors at Night,” the poignant vocal is balanced against a dense, heavily processed synth/guitar part evoking muted dread. “Queen of the Night” is filled with constantly shifting textures, conveying unrelieved madcap stress.
Its composition reflects Van der Aa’s openness to the ideas of his collaborators. He said, “Musically, I started with the instrumental structure of the track; Kate then added the melodic scales escalating up to increase the tension in the verses. Co-producer Thijs de Vlieger then programmed the drum track, and these three layers combined to create a deliberately unstable balance and energy.”
Van der Aa’s credentials include a background as a sound engineer, and he makes masterful use of the studio in creating this impeccably produced effort. What I find most striking about this album is its depiction of life in a multiverse of both earthly and unearthly possibilities, redeemed by extended passages of ethereal melodic beauty.
Songs like “Identical Hands”
and “Asterion A Capella” are astonishing.
Indeed, in both cases, the music evokes the stillness of a mystical frame of mind. Such a compositional gift is quite rare, one which truly sets this music apart. Time Falling is thoroughly exhilarating.
Michel van der Aa at The New York Times
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois, where they are currently sheltering in place. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine ; he wrote performance art pieces presented at Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication . In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, recently had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: email@example.com