Demdike Stare: Triptych
Though one-half of Demdike Stare is Miles Whittaker—Finders Keepers' Sean Canty is the other—no one should confuse the music Whittaker produces as MLZ or as one-half of Pendle Coven with the psychotropic pieces the Manchester duo conjure under the Demdike Stare guise. Having initiated their partnership in 2009 with the bewitched debut outing Symbiosis, the duo now re-issues its three 2010 vinyl releases— Forest of Evil, Liberation Through Hearing, and Voices of Dust—as a deluxe three-CD package called Tryptych that's supplemented with forty minutes of previously unreleased material. Though Demdike Stare assembles its episodic soundscapes by weaving together samples lifted from obscure library, jazz, industrial, and electronic recordings, along with sound material associated with Iran, Pakistan, and the Middle East, hints of techno and dubstep do surface at certain moments, albeit in somewhat veiled form. The duo are less electronic music producers in this context than alchemists conjuring spirits via medieval spells and toxic incantations. There's often a grimey and subterranean quality to the material that makes it feel both haunted and phantasmagorical.
The first CD features the long cuts that occupied the two vinyl sides of the original Forest of Evil release, with a shorter third as a bonus. The opening track “Forest of Evil (Dusk)” swoops in on a wave of piano sprinkles and nightmarish shrieks before setting forth on a fourteen-minute journey accompanied by a deafening soundtrack of cavernous rumbles and sheets of haze. Eventually a beat pattern comes into focus that's a tad reminiscent of the pummeling machine techno one associates with Ostgut Ton before the next stage takes us through a windy tunnel and the fulminating beats kick in again. It's an incredible journey, to be sure, and one not easily shaken off, though the immediate advent of its partner, “Forest of Evil (Dawn),” offers little opportunity for recovery. Like some drum circle designed to raise the dead, a primal percussive pattern relentlessly hammers until a dense dust-storm of shakers and hornets' nest of strings threatens to decimate the drummers. There's a diseased and poisonous heart beating at the track's center which makes the title choice seem particularly apt. In another context, “Quiet Sky” would register as an unsettling dark ambient setting but coming as it does after the two towering monstrosities one instead experiences it as a comparatively calming coda.
Liberation Through Hearing's opener, “Caged in Stammheim,” serves notice that no lessening of intensity is in store for the middle set, as the epic sound of a choir rises from the ruins of a bass-heavy dubstep pulse (that the album's title directly references the Tibetan Book of the Dead, whose focus is the state of consciousness during the intermediary stage betwixt death and rebirth, says as much too). “Eurydice” brings about an initial foray into trance-like ambient-dub-techno before an even deeper plunge into the hallucinatory depths occurs. Clangorous tones and the shudderings of the mad collide as they echo through the hollowed-out corridors of an asylum. “Eurydice” hints at some vague connection to the Porter Ricks material issued on Chain Reaction a number of years ago, and the rolling techno of “Regolith” does much the same in suggesting ties to the Substance and Vainqueur recordings issued by Chain Reaction during that same era. Moving in a slightly different direction, “Bardo Thodol” gravitates in the direction of Skull Disco and Shackleton in its Middle Eastern percussion rhythms and chanting voice. “Matilda's Dream” provides a welcome eleven-minute respite from the turbulence in the form of becalmed ambient-drone drift. The vinyl's forty-five minutes are joined by almost twenty minutes of bonus material, including “Nothing But the Night 2,” a blend of Shackleton-styled moodscaping and rickety IDM, and the dark ambient of “Library of Solomon Book 1” and swinging tech-house of “Library of Solomon Book 2.”
The final part in the trilogy, Voices of Dust, doesn't radically deviate from the style of its predecessors though it does range widely, as indicated when the hypnotic dance delirium of “Hashshashin Chant” segues into the electrically charged dub-techno of “Repository of Light.” “Desert Ascetic” drops a bulldozing downtempo swing into the center of a cacophanous town square in Morroco, “Viento de Levante” augments the sombre dirge of a funeral march with bell strikes and chants, and the haunted ambient setting “Leptonic Matter” finds spirit voices echoing throughout its empty chambers. Bonus material like Voices of Dust's viral meditation “Filtered Through Prejudice” and Liberation Through Hearing's “Library of Solomon Book 2” show that the group had enough quality material on hand to issue a fourth vinyl release rather than save it for the CD release. Put simply, Triptych works fabulously well as a summative statement of purpose and artistic overview, and the twenty-three pieces allow a comprehensive and clear portrait of Demdike Stare to emerge, even when the group shape-shifts as it does so regularly throughout the 170-minute collection. Notwithstanding the fact that the CD set is a follow-up to the three vinyl releases, 'Nightmares On Wax' would seem to refer less to another recording artist than to Demdike Stare's preferred MO.