A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Technoid trance meets dubby dread on IO from Belgium’s I AM A VOWEL
Writing in 1975 on the then-contemporary resurgence of interest in traditional trance music, the New York Times asserts “Westerners have traditionally preferred music with harmonic variety, melodic appeal, developmental interest. But trance music—an admittedly imprecise term for the many diverse approaches to organized musical repetition—has been gaining acceptance here and in Europe over the past few years.
Author Robert Palmer goes on to draw connections to some emerging forms of underground music, like avant-garde rock ‘n roll and the earlier seeds of electronic music. “In pop, black discotheque-oriented bands and European electronic groups such as Tangerine Dream are beginning to explore the possibilities of rhythmic and modal repetition, which seek through the absolute control of limited musical means to induce relaxation, contemplation, euphoria, and other psychological states, rather than merely to provide soundtracks for chemically‐induced states.”
The electronic genre known as trance music has always seemed like a bit of a red herring, perhaps even a bit of cultural appropriation to lend it some legitimacy. As noted on the Trance Music wiki, “A trance is a state of hypnotism and heightened consciousness.This is portrayed in trance music by the mixing of layers with distinctly foreshadowed build-up and release. A common characteristic of trance music is a mid-song climax followed by a soft breakdown disposing of beats and percussion entirely,”
It is perhaps slightly suspect that so much electronic Trance Music adheres to the sugary euphoric rush of an MDMA trip, hard-wired to the dopamine hits of a capitalist society. True trance music should guide the listener/dancer inwards, to experience their own visions. Think of the difference between a solitary spiritualist retreat into nature vs. a Mega Church, to spot the dissimilarities.
Traditional trance music does take the listener/musician on an inward journey. By and large, this required group participation in the past, large ensembles gathering together in song. The visionary quality is there, and intense, but it takes one to a slightly different place when you’re part of a group, a collective consciousness, a feeling of solidarity and togetherness. Visions produced in such sessions would reinforce an individual’s place, as part of a whole. It’s a lovely feeling, and highly important. It’s also not terribly in-line with the atomised, solitary experience of many Westerners, living under the auspices of Late-Stage Capitalism.
Electronic music instruments have opened up a new style of trance music, employing the endless repetition required to establish a visionary state, but without the blissed-out collectivity of traditional trance. In the case of an increasingly-large number of contemporary avant-garde electronic musicians in an unnamed, perhaps unnamable style, separated from the roller coaster ride of EDM trance. Instead, an increasing number of bedroom auteurs are using their drum machines and synths to conjure solitary worlds, unique and personal visions of techno utopia and dread. It closes the uroboros, bringing electronic music back together with the early days of hip-hop and the endless echoes of dub music and toasting.
I Am A Vowel is the solo electronic project of Belgian producer/singer/songwriter Nelly Largauer. IO is their newest EP released on French Label Coriolis Sound. It’s a tantalizingly short-and-sweet slab of technoid trance that just gets better with each successive listen. Largauer employs a battery of old-school drum machines, the stripped-down pallet of a 303 or 808, over which slivers of shivering atonal synths vibrate like fluorescent lighting, setting the scene for Largauer’s deadpan vocals, riding the wave like a vodoun, a dread priestess summoning the groove.
Largauer employs a battery of old-school drum machines, the stripped-down pallet of a 303 or 808, over which slivers of shivering atonal synths vibrate like fluorescent lighting, setting the scene for Largauer’s deadpan vocals, riding the wave like a vodoun, a dread priestess summoning the groove.
Both sides of IO follow the same format – one longform machine trance epic followed by slighter, more evocative and experimental fare. Album opener “Everyday Is Coriolis” is a particular standout, setting the mood with an evolving tapestry of handclaps and clinical beats. Lagrauer’s vocals sound chilled, distance, faraway and remote. ‘Coriolis’ is the optical illusion that a straight line curves when viewed from a great distance. Lagrauer’s vocals seem beamed down from 14,000 feet, from the aerosol frigid stratosphere. They have that liquid nitrogen reserve of ’70s dub music, mystical MCs conjuring ghosts and capturing them in ferric eternity.
I Am A Vowel is a techno priestess, a visionary in the sense of creating new worlds for listeners and dancers to get lost in. Lagrauer’s visionary worlds are more interior and personal than the forced optimism of big room EDM, a realm of mirror halls and fairy lights, romantic and fog-soaked, on one hand, and clinical and endless, on the other. This is the zone where Bedroom Pop meets underground electronica. Fans of latter-day digital isolationists like Inga Copeland or Kelly Lee Owens, or the stately, emotional techno of Andy Stott will get much mileage out of these trance states.
IO is out now on Coriolis Sound!
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