Tuesday, August 11, 2020
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Artist: Philippe Petit
Title: Descent Into The Maelstrom
Format: CD + Download
Label: Opa-Loka
Petit’s “Descent Into The Maelstorm” is a pair of chaotic and noisy works, “Descent” and “Into The Maelstrom” (with a four-minute interlude piece “_ _ _” inbetween), inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name about surviving a whirlwind, a story which some people now regard as an early example of science-fiction.

And early science-fiction seems to be an inspiration sonically here as well- this is a cacophony of old-fashioned-sounding simple analogue modular twists and turns, derived from that most fashionable of retro electro-experimental instruments, a Buchla easel. Squeals and bleeps akin to 1960’s sound designers impressions of broken robots or egomaniacal computers are the other of the day.

But unlike the 60’s trend for sparsity (driven at least in part by technical limitations), here the sounds are laid on thickly. Rapid-fire comb filters abound throughout, keeping the energy level persistently high. The noises are dragged into an artificial stereo due to processing the signals differently for each channel, which ends up being quite discombobulating, like being told subtly variant versions of a story in each ear at the same time- strangely tiring in a sitting of almost 50 minutes.

Moments of relative calm provide breathing space- for example at the 13:30 mark in “Descent” when the composition wantonly demonstrates an audacious change of musical note, or 7:30 into “Maelstrom” where it sounds like The Clangers have arrived to party- but these moments are brief and it’s rarely long before another ascent into the more manic arrangement begins. Despite the naming, if anything it’s the “Maelstrom” second track that is slightly more subdued than the first- not actually calm, but with a deeper, more bass-rich profile that isn’t quite as grating.

The press release states- or at least implies- that the Buchla is the source and this is a one-take affair, but the level of complexity involved certainly gives the impression (perhaps falsely) that there are both other sources and other processes at play, because it is sonically more diverse than one instrument would normally provide. Some of the higher-pitched elements sound like vocal noises that have been digitally cut-up and glitched, and some of the fastest parts do give the impression of digital dissection post-performance; but if that’s not the case then it is a compliment to the capability of the Buchla.

It’s a wilfully difficult listen, and I would definitely recommend headphones for it to get the fullest effect. If you’re in the mood for a gloopy, indulgent and moderately abrasive analogue aural bath to give your ears a good modular scrubbing, then dive into this.


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