Dirk Serries: Disorientation Flow
Projekt Records

Stratosphere: Aftermath
Projekt Records

Though Ronald Mariën (aka Stratosphere) and Dirk Serries earlier collaborated on the 2013 Projekt album In A Place of Mutual Understanding, these latest releases see the two artists operating separately. It makes sense that Disorientation Flow and Aftermath aren't combined into a single, double-CD release, given their fundamental differences. That being said, both are strong collections that impress as a complementary pair.

Serries' second solo album on Projekt follows in the footsteps of his 2014 release The Origin Reversal. In simplest terms, Disorientation Flow captures Serries in ambient-drone mode and using guitar to generate soundscapes of blissful and serene character; stated otherwise, anyone looking for material that's abrasive and raw should look elsewhere. Characterized by languorous flow, Serries' hypnotic settings drift gently as they direct the gaze heavenwards, their delicate tendrils and washes working in tandem to induce a state of becalmed entrancement in the receptive listener. And these five real-time improvisations—all but one extending beyond the twelve-minute mark—are literally Serries solo, as all of the album's sixty-five minutes were produced by him using nothing more than an electric guitar and a handful of effects.

Of the five pieces, it's the closing “The Lament Broke” that's the most haunting and elegiac. Yet while the tracks are distinctly titled and indexed, Disorientation Flow really functions as a totality, especially when the general sound design persists from one introspective setting to the next. Without wishing to suggest that Serries has taken his cue from Robert Fripp for the two Projekt releases, it's easy to draw parallels between Disorientation Flow and the live soundscapes recordings Fripp issued during the ‘90s (A Blessing of Tears, That Which Passes, The Gates of Paradise, et al.), especially when the two artists' projects are so complementary, tonally speaking.

Like Serries' release, Aftermath is the second album by Stratosphere to appear on Projekt, and Mariën likewise is responsible for all of the sounds on the hour-long release. But there are more differences than similarities between the two. For one, rather than being variations on a theme, the six tracks that constitute Aftermath are stylistically unlike one another, even if the differences are subtle. Secondly, melody is more pronounced on the Stratosphere set, plus the music is less retiring and more assertive. There's an ambient-drone dimension in play for sure, but Mariën also works into the release elements of prog and post-rock.

That the albums are different is made clear from the outset when “Accepting the Aftermath” starts the recording with a dramatic elegy where mournful themes and e-bow textures intone against a shimmering backdrop. If the opener seems generally melancholy, “The Search for Normality” begins to feel almost buoyant by comparison when its crystalline guitar shadings and molten stabs inch ever so incrementally upwards, and there's a snarl to the music that never arises on Disorientation Flow. Aftermath isn't without its serene moments, however, as attested to by the hymnal opening minutes of “The Search for Normality (Reprise),” and a Fripp connection emerges here, too, specifically in the slow-burning guitar timbres that appear in “Endless Despair” and lend it a No Pussyfooting-like quality. A little bit of Steve Reich also seeps into “Confusion” in background chiming figures that echo the American composer's Electric Counterpoint, and Mariën expands on the album's guitar-centric sound by adding bass in a number of places, most noticeably in the searing closer “When You Think Everything is Alright.” If Aftermath covers a lot of ground in its sixty minutes, the variety on display only makes the result more appealing.

July-August 2015