How An Obscure Six-Hour Ambient Record Is Terrifying A New Generation On TikTok
'Everywhere at the End of Time' is a depiction of how dementia erodes your memories.
In 2016, the ambient musician known as The Caretaker — real name Leyland James Kirby — began incrementally releasing a masterpiece known as Everywhere At The End of Time.
The album, which eventually ran to six hours in length, was divided into six stages. The first stage follows the template laid down by The Caretaker’s breakthrough record, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World: inspired by the dance hall scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, it sounds like haunted boogie-woogie music, full of echoing melodies and a gentle, vague sense of dread.
It’s a haunting listen, not the kind of thing that you want to play in the dead of the night, for instance. But it’s nothing compared to where the rest of the album goes.
As the album progresses, each stage gets increasingly degraded. The recognisable melodies get chewed up. There’s more interference; more noise. Eventually, by the sixth stage, the album becomes a mess of horror and chaos, eventually plateauing out into long, fuzzy waves of sound.
And that’s because Everywhere At The End of Time is not just an album. It’s a creative replication of what happens when you begin to lose your memories.
What Is Everywhere at The End of Time?
Everywhere at The End of Time is based in part on recent studies in dementia research that suggest that music is one of the last memories to degrade. “Music awakens a part of the brain not impacted by dementia and evokes responses, such as singing and movement, and brief moments of reconnection with loved ones,” writes Dr Maggie Haertsch of the Australian Health Institute.
So it goes in Everywhere at the End of Time. As the album progresses, shapes grow vaguer and vaguer. What once was clearly defined, if a little eerie, breaks down into its most composite and basic parts. To listen to the work in one go is to feel the world slipping out of focus; to experience what it’s like when textures fuzz and blur.
And yet still, throughout the whole six hours, snatches of melodies will occasionally recur. Even by the sixth stage, ‘Place in the World as it Fades Away’, there are echoes of the very first section of the record, smuggled amongst the long, staticky waves of ambient.
The album also plays into metatextual ideas about the death of the artist. When the last stage of Everywhere was released, Kirby announced that it represented the official “death” of The Caretaker moniker — by his count, he’ll never release an album under that name again. As a result, the album isn’t just a process of disintegrating music, it’s also the disintegration of a persona.
Which might be why it sounds quite so terrifying. Everywhere is an album about the eradication of identity; about what happens to us when the things that make us special are gradually stripped away. Almost always, we hold hard onto our notion of individuality and personal identity. We believe, strongly, that who we are matters. Everywhere At The End of Time proves that it does not.
The Caretaker: Viral TikTok Star?
The final stage of Everywhere has been out for over a year, and the project started almost half a decade ago. Which is why it’s quite so surprising that the record has found a new audience, thanks to those on the viral app TikTok.
Over the last few weeks, TikTok users have turned the experience of listening to Everywhere into a kind of challenge, with some encouraging friends to see how much of the album that they can get through before giving up.
In turn, that trend has inspired some pushback, with a few users arguing that turning the work into a mere “challenge” reduces its power and offends those with dementia.
Certainly it’s true that Everywhere at the End of Time is a confronting listen, the kind of art that should only be tackled when you’re in the right headspace. But the album getting a new, more mainstream lease on life does not seem so problematic.
The bigger problems are the fictions being spread online about the album. For instance, some have claimed that it is “frequently” played to dementia patients to reawaken their memories. That’s not true: or at least, there are no verifiable accounts of this happening that have been posted online. Which makes sense. After all, it would be an act of sadistic intent to play such confronting music to someone already confused.
But such rumours are few and far between. If treated respectfully — which is how the album is indeed being largely treated on TikTok — Everywhere is a gateway listen, not only to a whole world of ambient, but also to a way of thinking more deeply about the way the human mind works.
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @JosephOEarp.