If you’re interested in video games, you might be familiar with the upcoming PS4 game No Man’s Sky. It’s an exploration game that populates an entire universe with planets using procedural generation, so many planets you’d need thousands of lifetimes to explore them all. Each one is packed with its own weird colors and wildlife and minerals, just waiting to be uncovered by an intrepid player. A lot of No Man Sky’s appeal has to do with that vastness, the way it can make you feel like an infinitesimal speck in a space that’s out of your control; it can give you a new appreciation for the grandeur and scale of our own universe. And while I’m excited to try the game for myself, it’s exciting to know that feeling can be had right now — just by listening to Steve Hauschildt’s Where All Is Fled.
Hauschildt is an electronic musician who’s done his highest-profile work as part of the now-defunct trio Emeralds. The band found themselves at the vanguard of American ambient and electronic music thanks to albums like 2010’s Does It Look Like I’m Here? They were prolific, curious, and found joy in improvisation; at their best, they balanced melody and menace in a way none of their peers could match. Hauschildt and his bandmates released solo work while Emeralds was still functioning, but the band’s break-up in 2013 freed him to focus on that work with new intensity. Where All Is Fled is his second release since then and sixth overall, and the sense of possibility his music conjures — the limitlessness of his compositions, the way they stretch into the ether like waves you can’t see or feel — remains singular.
Hauschildt’s old bandmate Mark McGuire is a prolific solo artist in his own right, and his work focuses on the concept of time: what happens in the past and future, how it’s warped and dilated by memory, how we experience throughout our lives. Hauschildt is more interested in space, and it’s a preoccupation that continues on Where All Is Fled. His work is part of a long tradition of kosmische music — literally "cosmic" music — that began in the early ‘70s. Pioneering German bands like Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh used early synthesizers to build simple, droning patterns that overlapped and extended into space as far as your imagination would allow. Hauschildt uses the same techniques on Where All Is Fled, albeit taking advantage of leaps in fidelity and possible complexity. It’s like the difference between watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and Interstellar or Gravity: sure, it’s hard to beat the evocative potency of the classics, but you have to respect the technical wizardry and and boundary-pushing of the new stuff.
The relaxing power of massive art
When Hauschildt settles in and slowly builds songs like "Vicinities" and "Caduceus" with layer after painstaking layer, the effect is dizzying. At some point, you just have to surrender and let the melodies take over; it’s like lying on the beach and letting the tide wash over you again and again, if the water was made of crystalline sounds. You can’t pick out an individual drop of water in the ocean — why would you try to pick out one of Hauschildt’s lines once he’s built to a frenzy? Despite all the technical intricacy, there’s also a naturalistic bent to the music, one expressed through the title track and songs like "The World Is Too Much With Us." There’s rarely any overt darkness to Hauschildt’s composition, but at its most cluttered that tidal sensation edges closer to drowning.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by quotidian concerns. Work can be stressful; family can be stressful; money can be stressful; taking proper care of the sacks of meat and bone we call our bodies can be stressful. That’s why massively scaled art — whether it’s No Man’s Sky or Steve Hauschildt’s music — can prove so relaxing, so therapeutic: it can serve as a necessary reminder that our day-to-day problems are mere blades of grass in a vast cosmic meadow, tiny blips on an infinite cosmic timeline. Sitting in the dark and listening to Where All Is Fled doesn’t solve any of my real world stresses, but it comforts me and helps me to recognize their ultimate insignificance, and that’s a specific and valuable kind of musical effect.