Sphere Rex: For Electronics and Piano
Two dramatically different recordings from Russian imprint Muzyka Voln, Sphere Rex's For Electronics and Piano focuses on calming, background-styled ambient minimalism in the vein of Music for Airports, while Kshatriy's Slepok Soznaniya sounds like the unconscious in all its turbulent and nightmarish glory dredged up and given physical form.
The solo album by Cyclotimia member Sphere Rex opts for an overall brooding ambiance in its settings, with a darker undercurrent offset by the bright glimmer of electronics and piano overtop. There's lots of activity in play—the electronic elements in particular are restless—so the material is never static. Yet with dynamic contrasts kept to a minimum, For Electronics and Piano settles comfortably into an even-keeled state of lulling ambient drift for its forty-two minutes. It's old-school ambient, by the way, with Sphere Rex using analogue devices, tube pre-amps, and compressors from the ‘60s-‘70s in the name of authenticity. During “Do Not Forget to Put on Your Silk Hat Before Swimming” and “Sphere in a Triangle,” tiny electronic flourishes and piano noodling intertwine. The quiet sweep of waves, or perhaps wind blowing through the trees, echoes throughout “Lenin is Still Asleep” alongside a sleepy percussion pattern. That old-school feel is also reinforced by the presence of a simple drum machine beat in “Why No Plasma TV in This Forest?” In keeping with its title, “It's Been Raining... Just Like Any Other Day” is downcast but also the most affecting of the five pieces. After an opening juxtaposition of squiggly electronics and sombre piano chords, the piano tinkles threaten to fade away into nothingness, until a soft, ghostly wail appears. There's a nice display of tension, too, in the way Sphere Rex slows the tempo until the piano playing reaches a state of near-stillness. Here and elsewhere, Sphere Rex creates his own particular brand of “discreet music” in drawing upon the ideas and legacies of Brian Eno and Erik Satie.Having first appeared on the Russian post-industrial scene in 2004, Kshatriy recently issued his first “professional” recording with Slepok Sonzaniya (meaning “a mould of consciousness” in Russian) on Muzyka Voln. The collection is an hour-long plunge into dark ambient that Kshatriy created by working with processed field recordings, synthesized drones, acoustic elements, and rhythmic loops. Its nine dense soundscapes of disturbed design teem with all manner of whispering voices, seething winds, creaking doors, and industrial rumble. Though there's a concept driving the work (specifically the idea of a galactic warrior bringing knowledge, love, serenity, eternal life, and bliss into the world), as always one's experience of the material isn't dependent on awareness of the concept. Track titles such as “Magic Forest,” “The Spirits,” “Loki,” and “Mother-Earth” relay some hint of the material's epic and mythological character, even if they don't convey the particular kind of bleak and menacing ambiance Kshatriy favours. During “Hymn to Kali (part 1),” heavy doors clank, as if trying in vain to keep out the storm raging outside, while “Space Travel” documents a nine-minute swirl of intergalactic howl. As often occurs with such recordings, the closing track, “Moment Istiny,” brings the intensity level down to ease the listener back to a state of normalcy. That relatively calming piece aside, one might think of Slepok Sonzaniya as a stroll through the blackest underworld this side of Hades.