A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Modular waves; deep space ambiance; temple bells and bone dance dub techno, from this power trio of occult electronics
Regular readers probably need little introduction to the names Sean Canty, Andy Votel, and Suzanne Ciani. Nor do they need much convincing to get cross-eyed excited about the prospect of the three of them collaborating.
To recap, or if yr new to this modular party – Sean Canty, as one half of Demdike Stare, is responsible for some of the most confusing tapestries of sampled, twitching post-postmodern bricolage, spinning jittering golems out of Italian Horror films and bassweight. Andy Votel is crate-digger extraordinaire, one of the founders of the Finders Keepers Label, among others. He’s one of the world’s most outstanding purveyors of mixtape mayhem, classy sleaze, folk horror, and damn good funk. Suzanne Ciani is an electronics pioneer, that started making gentle new age music in the early ’80s, went on to compose for Atari commercials, and release an armload of technically accomplished romantic piano albums, before being re-discovered and championed by underground labels like Dead Cert, which is curated by Andy Votel. She has been called “America’s Delia Derbyshire”/
The trio have been recording together, intermittently, since 2013, releasing 3 LPs and 2 tapes, in that time, including Intervisions, which we reviewed earlier, which i claimed, “swallows you up like the Uroboros, while you slowly stew in its juices for half an hour.”
Omnichrom isn’t quite as soup-like as Intervisions, being composed, rather, of pastoral newage drifting song poems. I’m not sure if NeoTantrik’s line-up changes, or if i just wasn’t aware of Suzanne Ciani’s involvement at the time, but her involvement is central to this music, and what it is driving at.
Suzanne Ciani’s modular waves are the nucleus around which Votel and Canty’s industrial synths and psycho platters orbit and fizz. The A Side is made up of four short segments – ‘Sound Awareness’, ‘Dilettante A’, ‘Sun Environment’, and ‘Alpha Tempura’. The B-side is only 2, ‘Omnichrom’, the longest voyage on here, and ‘Alpha Wrecks’.
The album begins with a blissful auric drone, which is soon met by an underwater bubble synth from Ciani’s modular. A peaceful feeling resides.
Things become slightly ominous, on ‘Diletantte A’, with a razor-thin string synth, fizzy-lifting oscillators, and radio telescopes. Muzak for the Arboria Institute.
‘Sun Environment’ is the prettiest piece on here, with a lulling flute organ drift, like a faerie harmonium. ‘Sun Environment’ may be this album’s heart and soul, as they seemed to have replaced the ominous dystopianism with a sun blurred positivity. A return to the optimism of the self help movement in the ’80s. We WILL reach other stars. There has to be more to it than this. ‘Sun Environment’ is like climbing the golden ladders of a late summer’s sunbeams, and finding a race of naked, bronzed figures that dance lithely, standing on each other’s shoulders. You stay there until you tan like a salamander, and return home for some lemonade.
The somewhat rickety funereal ritualism returns with the close of the A-side, ‘Alpha Tempura’. I feel Sean Canty’s presence most strongly on this one, as he seems to be summoning the ritual percussion from old beatnik bongo records, smearing them in dirt and cobwebs, as he is best at.
Flip the record over, and a strobing hypnotic synth opens ‘Omnichrom’, which then explodes, in the album’s most thrilling moment – a very sparse temple groove holds court in lock time, while a gong sounds the hours, and a skeleton marimba is played. It’s a very weird skull-and-bones banger, but bang it does, and the flights of static and handclaps around the fringes just seal the deal. I would love to see dancefloors get haunted with this. Note the way the drums flange and echo on their way out – bone dance dub techno.
We conclude our voyage today with ‘Alpha Wrecks’, which returns to the deep space cryo-drift of the earlier modular meditations. As the Buddhists say, however, this is a very full emptiness, a very busy nothingness. Sound waves hang around the surface like oil on stormy water, to suddenly dull, go dark and disappear. Either Canty or Votel pull out their best Gene Krupa breaks record, and again let brittle shellac bring the ritual, which culminates in a weird and unsettling mixture of madness and beauty, as more brainwashing synth tones are met with weird whispers. An ethereal choir is there in the mix, as a ray of hope, a guiding light, to ever prevent things from getting to unsettling.
The most intriguing thing about the NeoTantrik exploration is the way that electronics, samples, and effects are interwoven, to create an interesting postmodern pastiche, that you can also dance to.
I don’t think i properly understood NeoTantrik until i watched some performance footage of them the other night. I think this performance in question might’ve been just Ciani and Votel, from earlier this year. Ciani had her back to the audience, in front of her knobs, and the pair played in front of a truly eye-melting psychedelic projection – like some lost Czech new wave classic, in Technicolor.
So, on one hand, it seems the goal is to provide new incidental music for SF arthouse flicks the lot of them adore.
On the other, that could just be some visual stimulation, to let them get on about what they are actually doing: improvising.
For the longest time, it just didn’t seem like improvisation was that possible with electronic music, which was based and built around preset sound and sequences. Performers were somewhat tethered to their playlist, triggering pre-recorded parts.
But, on the flipside, there has always been the shadowy aspect of electronica – let’s call it laboratory electronics. Or you could say it “gallery dance”, if you like. You know the type – serious, stern-faced sonic architects with laptops and tablets and interpretive dance. Don’t get me wrong – i absolutely adore a sparse noise show. I’ve been to a billion of them. I’ll be the first to lie on the floor and meditate to hour-long drone sets. I love it, and it’s beautiful – but there is a limited possibility for crossover.
I know i’ve said this a billion times, but there seemed to be a point when people’s attitudes shifted, and began to refer to “just another noise record” or “just a drone band”. It came with the onset of the information rush. Noise and experiemental musicians have always put out a lot of records, it’s part of their MO, as their style is so much about improv, performance, and process. But, hey, no one expects you to hear every Merzbow record – every Haters side project. It’s madness!
This music suggests a new organizing principle, beyond the dead notes and staves of the classical canon. This is music for beats, for pulses and breath. It’s organic, but constructed from technology. It’s both a folk rendition of SF, as well as SF returning to the primal, suggesting caves and rites, but hewn out of modular synthesizers and tape delay.
OmniChrom is the second of a planned trilogy, after Blue Amiga, which also came out this year, so look for that.
Amazingly, there seem to still be some vinyl around on this one, which shouldn’t last long. This is a truly modern classic headnodding synth record, that goes both outwards and inwards.
We’re still rushing around, to keep tabs on 2014. Any 2014 records you think we should feature, or that you think more people should know about, leave us a comment! Or drop us a note on FB. Follow Forestpunk on Twitter for more music news and updates, madness and wonder.
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