If you've ever flown on an airplane, you've probably pictured it crashing, and imagined yourself plummeting to the ground along with it. The airplane seems unique among modern inventions in the way it elicits images of its own failure — no matter how unlikely — and provokes thoughts of death.
On The Infected Mass, Winnipeg-based composer Matthew Patton (under the name Those Who Walk Away) dives deep into the perverse indulgence of imagining death by airplane. A 50-minute work of ambient and drone music, it's built from elegiac choral and string arrangements, processed recordings of human blood flow and breathing and recovered cockpit recordings from airplanes in crisis. The result is an unsettling but beautiful score to a catastrophe.
Time slows down in a panic, and the restrained, droning pace of this record reflects that. The album is almost an hour long, but it succeeds in representing just a few minutes of panic time, rendered in all the detail someone facing death might experience.
The Infected Mass has a symmetrical structure; at the centre are the cockpit and air traffic control recordings, unnerving for the clinical calm with which they discuss the planes' approaching crashes. These recordings are framed by slow, mournful performances by string ensembles and pretty but ghostly choral voices. The delicate ethereality of this instrumentation evokes the thin air of airplane space, and the precipitous boundary between life and death. Ultimately, this music communicates not only a sense of grief but also one of hope, perhaps hope in an afterlife, as the religious language of the album and track titles suggests.
Patton has created something deeply moving with The Infected Mass. It's a rare example of an ambient work successfully engaging with themes often reserved for other mediums, and it has the potential to profoundly shake its listeners. ()