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exponentiation ezine: issue [7.0:culture]

[ music | books | film]

Artist: Magma
Album: Mekanik Destructiw Kommandoh
Label: Phantom Sound & Vision
Year: 1973

Mekanik Destructiw Kommandoh (M.D.K.) is a bombastic, driving album from France's Magma. The main compositional force is Christian Vander, who utilizes themes present in this album in a later work, where they area retooled to a minimalistic ensemble. Instrumentation here is rather quirky, but not unbelievable for a progressive band from the 1970s. For instance, atop the standard rock instrumentation of drum kit (this one being diverse, and exceptionally well used), guitar, and bass (certain passages have smooth trills that suggest the bass player is using a fretless bass), a full chorus is employed, as well as a brass section. However, while standard rock instruments are used, the chorus, bass, and drum seem to be the main driving force in the compositions.

One of the album's main features is a forceful, forward moving repetition of thematic material in all instruments: motivic chunks may exist for only a measure or consist of full although short phrases, with subtle variations in melody, harmony, and dynamic to provide momentum and build up to the next idea. When guitar appears, it is in a lead capacity, usually overshadowed by the other elements of the music, but for that, adding tension to the repeated patterns, encouraging transitions.

Another thing that stands out is the immensity of syncopation and conflicting time signatures that in themselves provide a contrast temporally. The intense rhythmic power of each track betrays the composers professional training as a drummer. Even dynamics and motivic variations, which essentially serve to increase the force and activity of the music, are very mindful of their rhythmic orientation. A homophonic texture prevails throughout, with contrapuntal periods providing fierce syncopation and tension.

It should be noted that this impulse doesn't seem to have a strong connection to rock, where rhythm is generally just a container for harmonic movement. M.D.K.'s rhythmic sensibilities are somehow more primal and vital, yet for it's complexity, sophisticated. Time signatures vary, and conflicting signatures create a peculiar groove that usually resolves itself with transition to a new musical concept. Like the best music with complex signatures it all remains fluid and coherent; it is alive and violent, agitated.

The sound is also incredibly warlike and triumphant. The choral passages in their intensifying chants sound like harbingers of chaos with steady, ominous and sustained notes, or frantically chanted and flawlessly repeated vocal melodies that insist their madness to the listener. Though the lyrics are writing in a constructed language, one can understand the impression given by the shouting voice in Nebëhr Gudatt which seems to suggest impassioned oration, or the soprano screams, which seem tortuous, like an individual murder or the yelps of the mob as it is slaughtered piecemeal. The whole album, being conceptual, builds up to an extreme climax with full instrumentation and an explosive pace, where musical conflicts are only measures apart, the chorus is heated, and everything seems to dissolve at the end of Mekanïk Kommandöh, leading the way to the melancholy and divergent Kreühn Köhrmahn Iss De Hündïn, the album's final track, which seems to contemplate ruin and aftermath--hard earned success. A finely crafted and unique piece of energetic music. The conclusion is ultimately menacing, and coupled with a final, bittering drone of feedback, suggests something defeated but not entirely gone.

Where rhythms contrast and independent themes battle back and forth in temporal nearness, the underlying feeling becomes apparent: the conflict between man and man; the difficulty of sustaining peace where different ideas regarding the fundamental nature of things cause deep and impassible chasms between communities, which set out to assert themselves, or simply to defend themselves. - Risc


Artist: Sombrous
Album: Transcending the Umbra
Label: Forever Plagued Records
Year: 2004

Sombrous composes droning ambient music in the vein of Biosphere; a cosmic, minimalist aesthetic is gradually built up by tiny, emotive details in the texture of the music, giving voice to a cosmic meta-layer that seems to be one of the primary attractions of listening to this. It's very well executed in the sense that the few tonal changes that dictate the most simple of melodies, smoothly are cycled in epic-long conjectures, during which the listener feels as if melodic development and synth collage melt into one musical brush.

The nature of this music is what draws millions of people to this genre; it escapes the formality of popular music and aims instead for an esoteric patterning, much like classical music, where the focus moves from the rhythmic basis and the chorus to the details in the harmonic essence. In the music of Sombrous there are no choruses, only a main theme that diverges into new territory, through detailed instrumental changes that force the listener to pay attention to the music while falling into some kind of meditative trance. The impact is seductive and absorbing, unlike most modern ambient today that often falls short.

The repetitive methodology sometimes loses direction, which is often the case with ambient music of this sort, but the medium itself enables us to create while interpreting, which means that every textural change is a potential back door to a new feeling or sensation. The music speaks to our creativity and emotive understanding but Sombrous is doing something far off from the trails of Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream. The last epic on this album is called "Stoicism," which I believe is telling for the music itself; not a withdrawal from emotions but a bold, deconstructive perception of life as a continuous transformation of colliding and dissolving forces. Dreamy, suggestive and fantasy rich, "Transcending the Umbra" reveals through musical cryptology our consciousness as both an organic part of the universe, as well as an independent energy to cause havoc, beauty and change. - Alexis


Artist: Tangerine Dream
Album: Stratosfear
Label: Virgin Records
Year: 1976

In the album Stratosfear, Tangerine Dream presents a vigorous and dreamy neo-symphonic work taking advantage of atypical instruments and musical technologies available at the time. Synthesizers do the work of representing classical instruments such as flute and piano, as well as being used to provide their own unique tone colours.

Classical devices litter this work and show both technical proficiency and creative vitality. A symphonic structure is evident: a division into four movements with structure and tempo varied in the tradition of the greatest classical symphonies. Electric counterpoint is prominent throughout the recording, with rhythmic lines serving as a ground for harmony and also thematic development while arpeggios weave in and out of one another in a musical dance of abstract thought. Melodic lines are echoey and self-referential. In the opening movement, patterns mutate recursively and thematic lines evolve; sections return in completeness as a striking analogue to the structural and aesthetic wisdom of the great composers of the past.

The titles of the tracks reflect the bizarre, dreamy soundscapes Tangerine Dream builds in each movement. A great deal of reverb and instruments with droning, brooding energy are present; airy dissonance builds up tension underneath classically influenced phrases. Unusual shifts created by the unexpected introduction of electric tones, abrupt 12-string guitar chords, and noise, much the way the dreams of humans tend to shift illogically, almost magically. In the final movement, an abrupt chord paves the way for a wandering solo overtop jostled permutations of rhythmic elements in the introductory section of the movement before revealing thematic reference to the beginning of the album, providing conceptual unity to the entire digital symphony.

These devices are used to introduce and conclude the entire work; rising tones pave way to the initial rhythmic energy that draws in the listener; a melancholy piano coda, thematically unrelated to the rest of the album, concludes the final movement with an airy piano melody cadenced stark and tense chord that sharpens the listeners awareness and expectations in the manner of waking from a dream and being ushered back into reality.

In the end, one is left with the feeling of imaginative, subconscious beauty taking hold of the spirit and ever lifting the listener upward into a reflective, abstract realm of symbols and an ethereal force that is both melancholic and driving. A great accomplishment of electronic art music. - Alexis

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