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Morphosis - What Have We Learned



Given Techno’s simplicity, I’ve always felt a little disappointed that we’ve not heard much more from some of the more unusual areas of the globe. That’s probably in part down to the sheer cost and availability of equipment, but also because the culture that it comes with can often be so underground as to not exist.

Rabih Beaini aka Morphosis comes from a place not normally associated with such music, namely the Lebanon, but moved to Venice in the mid-90’s to make music. He sent up his own label Morphine, which since 2005 has released a number of raw and distinct records from people such as Shake, Madteo and Hieroglyphic Being. Some of his own releases were given a strong Levantine association, with titles such as “Dark Days of Phoenicia” and “Musafir” (Arabic for Traveller).

That sense of displacement and to a certain extent, isolation, has helped Beaini put together a strong identity in terms of his music. It’s dark and abstract, but doesn’t resort to high tempo or aggression to put its point across, relying instead on sonic ambiguity and a myriad of influences, channelled into some invigorating compositions.

What We Have Learned, Beaini’s debut album, sees him move up a gear in terms of his ideas and sounds. There’s something of a early 80’s post-disco vibe to matters, recalling the mutant funk of Bill Laswell’s Material or the hazy, spatial explorations of Holger Czukay and Jah Wobble. The clattering reverb of opener “Silent Screamer” sounds a little like Public Image, but is brought into the 21st century by a languid synth and distant sampled, disembodied voices. It’s an uncertain start to an album that never really leaves this particular aesthetic, but flowers in unexpected directions as you continue to listen.

Spiral” is the album’s thundering techno moment, albeit at a steady 118 bpm, threatening to accelerate to a new level with each clattering hi-hat. “(Have we really gone) Too Far” features a delightfully idiosyncratic female vocal that accentuates the title question beautifully alongside some middle-eastern sounds.  This is a richly analogue album with plush sinewaves and tones cascading throughout.  When paired with decisive-sounding 808 beats, it can make for hypnotic listening, as evinced by “Wild in Captivity”.

It’s not all dancefloor material either. “Gate of Night” features what sounds like gamelan percussion backing a spacious and sonorous synth line that gives the impression that Beani’s synthesizer is a living, breathing organism, whilst closer “Europa” sees out the album in an abstract fashion. Where the album does seem to peak though is with the slow-burning techno jams that Beaini attempts to slowly cram as much sound into as possible. “Dirty Matter” starts off with pounding drums and guttural bass before ascending new ground, as all manner of sounds are condensed into it. Although we’ve heard these types of compositions before, there’s something refreshingly loud about it – the compression and production levels are mastered cleverly so that it really leaps out at you and I imagine it would sound emphatic at proper volume.

What we have learned is that Beaini is slowly but surely gaining a reputation as a musician within the sphere of both house and techno to take notice of. This album glows and burns patiently without really catching fire, but for those interested in the more abstract and ambiguous in the genre, it’s essential listening.

Toby Frith


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