The Polarities – Watch Repair

by Timothy J Jarvis


As band names go, there can be few as apt as that of Watch Repair. There is much of the horologist’s art in their meticulous, engrossing compositions, pieces that are as intricate and fine as clockwork, as hypnotic as the workings of a watch’s innards. And repair is fitting too, as these timepieces all have warped springs, gears with cogs missing, and yet have been made to run in spite of these flaws by skilled craftsmen – melodies and themes are there, but they’re fractured or layered in discordant polyphony.

The Polarities is an engrossing mix of acoustic composition (predominantly picked strings and chimes, though the instrumentation is incredibly dense), musique concrète, and some found sound and serial elements. Plucks, decaying chimes, creaks, harsh bursts of static, slides rubbed on wound strings, spectral radio broadcasts, rumbling bass, unnerving electronic textures, beautiful guitar picking, all intermittently smothered in drones, by turns ominous and shimmering.

Much of contemporary acoustic composition is a little trite, emptily sentimental, romantic, and twee. The Polarities entirely avoids the pitfall of mawkishness, but it is much more, and much more affecting, than an exercise in composition. Watch Repair are interested in texture and tone and embrace dissonance as a counterpoint to melody. They make difficult music that requires and rewards attentive listening. But also music that is mesmerizing and genuinely moving, often eerie and haunting.

Music is considered the most affective art: though abstract, it has a potent effect on the emotions. And, in folk and mystical traditions, certain kinds of musical sounds have long been regarded as transmutative; the chants, incantations, and rhythmic drumming of magical rites act on the imagination to alter the listener’s perceptions. Certain kinds of music, which have both affective and transmutative aspects, can work on the psyche to produce strong sensations and to reify, produce, as if by alchemy, that which does not exist, allow us to experience places and events, mundane or fantastical, in our heads, in a way that is powerfully felt.

This is the kind of music Watch Repair make. At one time, when listening, I was taken to a strange room filled with strange automata, who pirouetted, played bizarre instruments, and acted out a play both wondrous and dreadful, a play something like Robert W. Chambers’s awful The King in Yellow (and there is a track on the album named, ‘Cassilda’)… The Polarities is a record both weird and transporting, elusive and utterly compelling.

The Polarities is the fifth Watch Repair release. It is available on the Watch Repair bandcamp site, along with their earlier releases, which are also all very much recommended.