A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Arca ditches the dread, leans into the digital sublime on Madre.
Arca’s earliest music is the soundtrack of digital anxiety – sounds converted to shrapnel, endlessly whizzing past yr ears like white hot shrapnel, dizzying, unrelenting, seemingly sourced from some tarry subterranean ocean beneath yr feet. Her frenetic beats emulate the feeling of an always-on society – plugged in, zoned out, overwhelmed and always on the brink of exhausted collapse.
With Madre, a short EP comprised of just 4 tracks, it seems the bubble has finally popped, revealing a beatific core beneath the dizzying digital onslaught.
Collaboration has a way of drawing out the beauty in Arca’s dystopian technological worldview. The glistening, bristling beatwork underpinning her work with Bjork are an early example of the beat-driven beatitude she’s capable of, a tendency that finds its ultimate expression on Madre, created in collaboration with cellist Oliver Coates.
Impressively, there’s nary a beat to be found on Madre, sounding instead like something you’d hear at a New Music festival. Or an 11th-century Italian cathedral.
Madre is made up of 4 versions of the same song. The versions aren’t that dissimilar from what you’d find on a hip-hop or techno 12″ – there’s the full version (“Madre”), the instrumental (“Madreviolo”), the acapella (“Madre Acapella”), and the remix maybe (“Violo”).
“Madre” is surprisingly understated and simplistic, with a nearly liturgical Spanish aria soaring above some swooning, keening strings. Coates’ cello brings together the pulverizing emotionality of Samuel Barber‘s Adagio for Strings with a touch of Italian romanticism. The strings never succumb to Barber’s lamentations or melancholy, though; no, nothing so obvious. Instead, this music for starlight and shadows, the silhouette of palm fronds against baked white adobe walls.
Boomkat describes “Madre” as “heaving with arthouse charm and sounding like the soundtrack to a queer period drama centered around the Spanish Inquisition. It’s delicate, erotic and morose, glistening like sweaty, naked flesh in candlelight or a tear-sodden rag at the bedside.”
Melding electronic music and classicism is never an easy task. Electronic composers and performers historically content themselves recreating famous classical works on electronic instruments (William Orbit‘s Pieces in a Modern Style and Wendy Carlos Williams‘ Switched-On Bach) or else you get pieces of obtuse experimentation, SuperCollider jams for tiny art galleries and state-funded music programs for an audience of 3. Madre, on the other hand, is a sublime meeting of art and technology. Coates’ pizzicato plucks and bowing shiver with the slightest, most delicate patina of delay; a string quartet in slow motion, leaving a rainbow in curved air; while subtle multi-tracking allows Arca to duet with herself, becoming a host of airy angels, weeping and rejoicing in equal measure.
subtle multi-tracking allows Arca to duet with herself, becoming a host of airy angels, weeping and rejoicing in equal measure.
It’s tempting to read into Arca’s beatific quietude and its origins – perhaps as a result of a more meditative life during quarantine and lockdown. Or as a sort of nervous exhausted collapse in the wake of a world on the brink of madness. I don’t know what’s causing it but Arca’s never sounded before, truly coming into her own both as a producer as well as a composer. Essential stuff. Do not miss.
Madre is out now on XL Recordings