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Bvdub: Tribes at the Temple of Silence

img  Tobias Fischer

Although the disciplines of music and painting are undeniably converging, Brock van Wey could never content himself with merely replacing the brush with a microphone. Sound, for the vast emotional canvases his bvbub alter ego has become known for, doesn't merely represent a tool to cope with private philosophical reflections and personal psychological imbalances. It constitutes a sort of Ur-matter for building entire new worlds from scratch. Defining a sort of „inverse ambient“ approach, in which the background moves to the fore and compositions draw their audience in rather than spilling out into the room and becoming a discrete part of its atmospherics, one could literally imagine living inside an album like Tribes at the Temple of Silence. Music, here, seems determined to lead the listener inwards, towards a higher form of truth and our real self, a space, whose sublimeness objective reality simply couldn't match. As such, the work puts bvdub in the distinguished company of the likes of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, who purportedly surrounded himself with a continuous cloud of radio emissions at all times, or  Romantic composer Franz Schubert, who supposedly spent every single second of his short and fast-burning life refining his scores. Tribes at the Temple of Silence, too, caters to the age-old yearning for wholeness between body and soul: If we accept that our actions are guided by our feelings, then the act of influencing them through sound can take on spiritual significance.

Needless to say, innovation is hardly the most essential attribute for such a philosophy. Tribes at the Temple of Silence is the eigth bvdub full-length and by now, the characteristics of the project have firmly established themselves. Based on ghostly harmonic intimations, tracks unfold through the  repetition and subtle variation of a handful of melodic and, occasionally, rhythmical patterns and the sensate spaces opened up by them. Just as important as the actual themes and melodic inventions is their delicate layering: Without applying excessive amounts of reverb and delay, van Wey is creating seemingly endless planes, on which motives are strewn like rocks in a canyon. The differences compared to a previous effort like 2010's The Art of Dying Alone are not so much in kind, as in degree, manifesting themselves in aspects like concept, mood and timbre and through a set of techniques, which allow him to stick to his guns, while setting each new work apart from the rest of his discography – although one essentially knows what to expect, there is still plenty of room for surprises. On Tribes, for example, slow, hypnotic beats attach themselves to the floating atmospherics of the otherwise weightlessly drifting tracks. On opener „A Quiet Doorway Awaits“, a drooping piano sequence gradually emerges from a sorrowful harmonic tissue, grows in density and is then flooded by acid-tinged drum machine pulses. Rather than continuing this growth, however, the accumulation of elements suddenly stalls and the listener is thrust into the open, like an astronaut taking that leap into the weightless void of the cosmos, where change takes place at the rate of aeons. If The Art of Dying Alone simply presented its elements and then let time do the work, Tribes at the Temple of Silence, contrarily, stops the clock and instead focuses on the relationship between sound and space.

Past, present and future are one here – a consoling thought, perhaps, for someone who has always considered the unstoppable march towards death his main artistic inspiration. Accordingly, everything is constructed along the lines of intertwined principles: All pieces, with the notable exception of the two closing tracks, make recourse to the exact same architecture, relying on a fundamental loop running for sixteen beats (or four measures, respectively), which serves as a frame for a cornucopia of various shorter cycles. Not only do these loops sport the same length, they are also running at identical tempos, further increasing their mutual relatedness. On the one hand, this may seem a lavish stretch. And yet, these extensive cycles are a prerequisite for their use as basic building blocks for ambitious epics extending far beyond the usual confines of electronica: From constituents of a mere eight seconds' length, Tribes at the Temple of Silence constructs epic soundscapes clocking in, as in the case of what can be considered both in terms of programmatics and concepts its centerpiece,„Morning Rituals“, at a quarter of an hour long mantras. It is precisely this underlying symmetry which lends the album its striking sense of coherency, the pervasive and, occasionally, overwhelming sensation of everything pertaining to the same idea.

The album's real achievement, meanwhile, lies in the fact that it manages to create this immersive intensity without repeating itself verbatim. Rather than thwarting his creativity, the alignment of arrangements almost seems to have freed van Wey up in terms of composition, with each track being imbued by a strong sense of personality. Vital in this regard are the two pieces sounding out the journey. Both „We Move as One“ and „Towers Rise to the Sky“ initially seem to go down the same route as their predecessors, but then enter a phase of hypnotic stasis, stoically repeating its motives and messages for minutes on end, as though one were wandering through a painting. It is almost, as if the record were gradually fading away, no longer caught in the ebb and flow of tension and release of the opening statements, propelled by a sense of great calm and harmony. It is here that the meaning of the album title reveals itself, the music entering a state of enveloping silence, of the temple's doors having been opened and the observer entering to marvel at the wonders contained within.

It is, of course, wonderfully ironic that the sense of transport should have arrived exactly in those pieces which are, inherently, the most immobile of the entire album. It may seem like a paradox to anyone to whom music is nothing more than a pleasant diversion. In the inwardness of Brock van Wey's worlds made of music, however, these contradictions are the most beautiful reward imaginable – and exactly what lends his work its spiritual significance.

By Tobias Fischer

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