This latest opus from INA GRM's François J. Bonnet is loosely inspired by René Daumal's unfinished philosophical novel Mount Analogue (1952), which recounts an imagined expedition in which explorers hunt for a mountain that can "only be perceived by the application of obscure knowledge." It has been a few decades since I last read Mount Analogue or watched the film it partially inspired (Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain) so my memory of both is blurry at best, yet that did not impair my appreciation for the album, as Bonnet characteristically channeled the theme in his own inventive and compelling way. The gist is that familiar sounds and structures become increasingly rare as the album unfolds, but Bonnet had a deeper philosophical agenda as well, as Shifted in Dreams is a meditation on how our current world is in a "blurred and uncertain state where the reality of signs loses its consistency while, paradoxically, the reality of senses and impressions becomes imperative, obvious." Bonnet is clearly not a fan of that situation, unsurprisingly, and refers to it as "the reality of demons." Putting aside the death of meaning and general existential horror of our times, however, the dissolving of the familiar is wonderfully fertile creative ground for a Kassel Jaeger album, as Bonnet is exceptionally good at layered and evocative sound design. This is a beautifully crafted headphone album (but probably only for those armed with the obscure knowledge of how to listen deeply).
In keeping with the central theme of dissolving familiarity, the opening title piece is the most conventionally musical stretch of the album, resembling a warm but melancholy organ mass. There is admittedly a lot of tape hiss and murk obscuring the sound of the organ, but that is probably as close to the recognizable physical world as this album ever gets and that situation does not last long at all (the piece plunges down a rabbit hole of mindfuckery after a few minutes). The general vibe is best described as "I am in a numbing fog of painkillers in a cathedral during an air raid, but everything is in slow motion and also made of crystal." While those crystalline sounds remain a regular occurrence for the duration of the album (Bonnet got his hands on a Cristal Baschet), just about everything else is an elusive and shape-shifting fog of field recordings, asynchronous loops, analog synth, processed guitar, and studio wizardry.
The album's centerpiece is "Dissipation of Light," which feels like a floating world of gently pulsing, flickering, and dissolving melodies that steadily becomes more haunted and tense before unexpectedly blossoming into a cosmic fantasia. That piece also kicks off a great mid-abum run, as the following "Gullintoppa" and "Sôlên I" are highlights as well. The former combines slow, lovely chord swells with texturally vivid field recordings to evoke the feeling of a sun-dappled autumn reverie in a park while more unsettling and ominous sounds increasingly gnaw away in the periphery. "Sôlên I," on the other hand, unexpectedly transforms from deep exhalations and electronic drips into a buzzing, chirping, and psychotropic synth dronescape. Again, however, all is not right with the world, as it also sounds like there is an orchestral nightmare blearily howling from a nearby void and maybe even another slow-motion air strike as well (one of the sounds lies somewhere between "streaking fighter jet" and "blurred and softened air raid siren"). As for the remaining pieces, they call to mind everything from a chopped & screwed improvisation on a broken calliope ("Barca Solare") to a hapless brass band frozen in suspended animation ("Allée des Brouillards"). That is not an experience that many other albums can promise, but the real magic of this album lies in its vivid, exacting, and inventive execution. Given Bonnet's central role in contemporary sound art, the fact that he has a real gift for crafting richly immersive sound worlds is hardly breaking news, but Shifted in Dreams is unquestionably one of his more inspired statements.