First things first: the word ‘caduceus' refers to the staff entwined with two serpents and bearing a pair of wings at the top that was carried by Mercury as messenger of the gods and that's more familiarly known in a similar form as the emblem associated with the medical profession. So what does that have to do with Caduceus, Akira Rabelais' follow-up to his Samadhisound debut, Spellewauerynsherde? It's not entirely clear, but then again Rabelais's work has always been enigmatic to some degree. Caduceus is superficially similar to bénédiction, draw in that both albums feature processed recordings of guitar (primarily electric, though acoustic strums are heard during “in a cadence of vanishing” on the new release) the composer treated using his personal software, Argeïphontes Lyre. The sounds on Caduceus are considerably more distorted than those heard on the 2003 recording, however, so much so that Samadhisound's founder, David Sylvian, has characterized it as “caustically romantic.”
The opening piece, “seduced by the silence,” would appear to be a harbinger of what's ahead. For three minutes, metallic shards of guitar groan and screech as panning source tones contort into shapes that find their visual equivalent in Francis Bacon's portraits. But the album hardly relies on one scheme; in fact, it's impossible to predict how each track will sound until it arrives. For every setting that tears the source material into shreds, there's another that opts for a more tranquil presentation, such as the suitably ghostly “with the gift of your small breath.”
“on the little in-betweens” offers a fleeting contrast in presenting fifteen seconds of harp-like plucks before “then the substanceless blue” warps the instrument all over again, but this time less abrasively when layered textures of treated guitar patterns, some delicate and others rough-hewn, drift into view and then fade. Tendrils stutter and flutter alongside a soft stream of white noise during “comme un ange enivré d'un soleil radieux,” while “where to let our scars fall in love” entraps the guitar playing within a mini-maelstrom where smears of grainy static pulsate and explode. The warbling sounds that introduce “and the permanence of smoke or stars” call to mind the 2001 release Eisoptrophobia—until, that is, the track suddenly mutates into a noise exercise in writhing convulsion, its grinding machinery poised to implode. The album's most violent track is “as fingers trace around the rim of a colourless sky,” which evokes the scarred terrain of a Sergio Leone western when lonesome guitar figures bleed across the desolate landscape. At sixty-four minutes, the album's longer than it needs to be, its major points having been clearly made by about the fifty-minute mark, but Rabelais' work is always deserving of one's attention and Caduceus is certainly no exception.