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Sunday
Jul102011

Emptyset - Demiurge


Musicians and architects have often been cited as perverse bedfellows. The sneering adage that compares writing about music to dancing about architecture is as tired as it is mistaken: architecture explores form and structure through rhythm, flowing lines and disjuncture to make its point, so why not dance about it? Or indeed, as Emptyset have done, make music that explores such a dynamic. The sound of Demiurge is that of a hulking monolith, clad in granite and obsidian. Each track attempts to take in a part of the overwhelming whole from a different angle. The album builds in layers, from foundations of sturdy bass to a carapace of harmonic and inharmonic strata, gilted with competing strands of noise.

The precision engineering of the sound is evident from a simple glance at track titles like “Plane”, Tangent” and “Function”. In mathematical terms, the empty set is the set which has no contents, merely laying out the potential functions of set theory. In the same way, the album is not ‘about’ anything beyond the architecture of sound itself, formed, at its core, from a single signal that only unfolds its potentialities once catalysed through technology.

Consequently, Demiurge is the internal cardiovascular sound of audio systems at work, particularly those designed to erupt with waves of bass pressure. Audio feedback occurs when an output is looped back into its own input, resulting in the manifold amplification of a signal coloured by the medium’s resonant properties which bring out certain frequencies. In theory, the accumulation can be infinite but in practice amplitude is constrained by the limitations of the amplifier, which flatten out the characteristics of the waveform into distortion.

While this is a technique that has often been used to reinforce low frequencies with gritty overtones, in this case the effect is to play with the inherent complicity between signal and noise, seemingly aiming to demonstrate how noise emerges out of coherence even as it threatens to overwhelm it. This balance is at its most delicate in “Structure”, which almost collapses in on itself before the subsequent track, “Function”, batters any unruliness back into submission with relentless hammering. Coherence, in this model, is shown merely to be a corollary effect of suppression.

This is a modus operandi that progresses not through conflict and resolution but by reiteration, stating and restating its insistent claim with only slight variations of tone and colour. It proceeds through pulsing loops of fundamental tones and noisily compressed transient clicks. Only on “Sphere” does the faintest notion of a climax arise, as a bouncing ball rhythm gradually accelerates to a strident intensity – yet without consequence.

The album culminates with “Monad”, the most confident and keenly poised of the eleven tracks. Managing to contain within it elements of all that has preceded, constructing solid sonic masonry over a slow stumbling dancehall throb. After nearly half an hour of growling severity, it is a welcome exercise in rich harmonic weighting, only occasional torn with noise.

As it struggles to avoid being consumed in convulsive loops of audio feedback, Demiurge is also engaged in a process of feeding back as method of self-commentary. By equal turns abrasive and sober, the album is a study in bare sound pushed to excess.

Toby Bennett

Buy Demiurge at Boomkat

 

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