A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Markus Guentner rounds out his ambient science fiction trilogy for A Strangely Isolated Place with a dose of much-needed optimism on Extropy.
Imagine, if you will… you are in a small landing vehicle, descending from orbit to explore a strange new world, a milk-white, alabaster, and mother-of-pearl marble in some far-off galaxy, millions of lightyears from where you first drew breath. Your booster rockets fire and you begin to slow, descend, piercing the atmosphere like a kingfisher’s bill in search of flashing fish in a shining silver creek. For a moment, all is lost, hidden as you descend through a thick layer of swirling mist.
And then, there it is, a new world, spread out before you like an intricate tapestry, a topography of rolling hillscapes and giant, looming mountains. Three suns dance an eternal dance in the sky, a will o’ the wisp ballet flanked by a chorus of moons and flickering gases, an aurora of colours never dreamt of by Human eyes. On the surface of this far-off land, you and your crew pick out traces of what seem like patterns – a radiating series of circles connected by straight lines, like some arcange glyph far too complex and ancient to comprehend.
Might this be a sign of intelligent life? Maybe even evidence of another Type III civilization. Might we be about to meet some more of our nearby neighbours? Your pulse quickens as the Gs gather like blankets on a cool autumn day.
Extropy is “a pseudoscientific theory that human intelligence and technology will enable life to expand in an orderly way throughout the entire universe.” German ambient producer Markus Guentner uses the idea of extropy as a launchpad to round out a trilogy of sublime ambient albums for the increasingly essential A Strangely Isolated Place, beginning with 2015’s Theai and refined on 2018’s Empire, where Guentner was joined by fellow ambient practioners Julia Kent on cello and Bvdub.
Extropy is both a return to form as well as a refinement, with Guentner returning to a more stripped-back pallet of minimalist ambient, delicate and austere, tranquil and transportive. It’s slightly lusher and warmer than Theai but more restrained than Empire, bringing all the ideas together and polishing to a surgical edge.
As with the other two volumes, Extropy was mastered by Rafael Anton Irissari of The Sight Below, possibly the best possible choice for his signature ethereality and delicate, gossamer beauty. Irissari does beautiful, misty, diaphanous ambient like nobody’s business, somehow managing to strike a balance between warm analog 70s progressive electronics and 21st-Century science fiction sound design. The end result is like some strange suns falling on Guentner’s shifting, organic ambient pads.
It’s a breathtakingly gorgeous slice of meditative ambient beauty, on par with classics of the genre like Brian Eno’s seminal works and monoliths of the genre like Pete Namlook yet managing to be completely, utterly Guentner’s own.
Extropy is essential listening for lovers of ambient, drone, and immersive sci-fi worldbuilding, as are Theai and Empire. It’s a stunning conclusion to an ambitious endeavour nearly 10 years in the making, and one more reminder that you simply cannot miss anything from A Strangely Isolated Place.
Extropy is out now on A Strangely Isolated Place.