Thursday, September 24, 2020
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Artist: Erdem Helvacioglu & Ulrich Mertin (@)
Title: Planet X
Format: CD
Label: Innova (@)
Rated: *****
'Planet X' is a collaboration between two highly renowned Turkish musician/composers ' guitarist Erdem Helvacioglu and violinist Ulrich Mertin. Helvacioglu's new-classical music has been called 'revolutionary', 'groundbreaking', 'luscious and unique' and completely arresting and disarmingly beautiful'. He's won numerous awards for his compositions. Mertin has worked with composers including Pierre Boulez, Gyorgy Kurtag, Helmut Lachenmann, and others. He's played with Ensemble Modern, musikFabrik, and the award-wining Hezafaren Ensemble, the leading contemporary music ensemble of Turkey. There is no lack of credentials between these two.

'Planet X' is a science fiction concept album. (Oh no, here we go'¦) From the back of the album cover: 'Without warning, a new object ' Planet X appeared in the heavens: a mysterious entity intruding upon a vast ancient system. Hailed as a paradise by some, an expeditionary force discovers instead that it represents a menace to human existence. Hunted by a superior alien intelligence an explorer is trapped and used as a test for the ultimate assimilation and extermination of humanity. This is the tale of his doomed fight, grasping for the last snatches of his soul.' Okay, I admit I like sci-fi as well as the next geek, but this smacks of shades of 'the Borg' from Star Trek, the Next Gen. 'Resistance is Futile; You will be assimilated!'

Be that as it may, this album isn't exactly what you might expect. It certainly wasn't what I expected. The music is Avant-garde, with a capital 'A'. On the first listen I couldn't make it all the way through. I opened my mind though thereafter, determined to not to be daunted by 'Planet X'. The opening piece is the title track, 'Planet X'. Besides some sonic rumblings, you get various kinds of string scraping, mournful viola and violin, snippets of guitar and other more spacey sounds. It's all rather abstract but for over nine minutes sets the tone for what's to come. 'The Hunted' sounds more like space music with sequenced electronics, tension guitar arpeggio, echoed drums in a martial rhythm, dramatic tremolo strings and other electronics.

'Gradual Annihilation of the Mind' is where things get really abstract ' squeaks, squeals, squalls from Mertin's playing, mad sawing, etc., and some banging. After some time Helvacioglu plays a simple minor key guitar ostinato. Nothing remains constant though as that morphs into something a lot more chaotic with strings gone wild and frenetic. It gets very, very noisy until just before the end when all that's left are a few fading guitar notes and some space ambience. 'Point of No Return' utilizes predominately reverse attack sounds (accordion?) with some guitar, and a little sonic seasoning with treated noise, and likely Mertin's violin (electronically processed) is in there somewhere. 'Elevation' is the shorted track at only 1:28 with a base of two heavily distorted bass notes and processed string, not much to this. 'A Particle in the Vastness of Space' sounds like it may have processed voice in it along with heavy slabs of treated and echoed noise. Mertin's viola returns playing an abstract doleful melody over these sonic rumblings as it increases in intensity then gradually subsides. Another transitional piece, 'Final Transformation,' nearly as short as Elevation' at 1:29 seemed to be just that; transitional as it builds with bellish sounds and rising mad-bowing string tension, then stops dead in space. 'Planet X' closes with 'Anima Aeterna' with a plucked viola phrase, slowly bubbling low bass, sequenced noise sweeps, processed distorted strings, more noise a really weird processed feedback riff and noisy percussion. The plucked viola phrase returns and is stretched through the vastness of space until it fades in the distance.

This is no easy listen. I can appreciate the work from a technical standpoint but the truth of the matter is, I just couldn't get into it. After the third time around I threw in the towel. You will probably like this if you're into Penderecki, Stockhausen, or Ligeti, all composers that I appreciated in years gone by, but seem to have lost my taste for of late. I doubt you will hear anything quite like this anytime soon. Challenging doesn't even begin to describe 'Planet X'. Maybe it's destined to become an avant-garde classic, but I'll leave that up to you to decide.


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