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Continuum: Continuum Recyclings Volume Two

img  Tobias Fischer

Even though, roughly a century after its inception, it still miserably fails at evoking a truly meaningful emotional response in most listeners, twelve-tone music continues to exercise an astounding theoretical fascination. One of the inspiring premises of the technique consisted in Schönberg's  notion of the „Grundgestalt“, a basic tone row containing all twelve pitches of the octave. Despite acting as a the sole source of intervals and motivic  modules for a piece, this pitch-collection did not necessarily have to appear in it verbatim. Instead, the harmonic and melodic shapes contained within the Grundgestalt  would – ghost-like and invisible to the public - subconsciously influence the course of the music, aligning it into clearly defined patterns similar to the workings of a magnetic field. The idea has transpired well into the 21st century: Even though dodecaphonic  philosophies most likely played no part in it, for example, the first installment in the Continuum Recycling series, released in 2006, can be considered an intriguing variation of Schönberg's ideas. Personally produced by Continuum's Dirk Serries, the four tracks contained on the album were based on a single, unreleased track of his project-partner Steven Wilson which, despite being unavailable to the public, was ingrained into the very dna  of the music, determining its growth, developing its traits and directing its actions at every single second. The result was a colossal 80-minute double-album with allusions to Krautrock and the sonic Avantgarde, an uncompromising foray into the unknown which even surpassed the duo's eponymous debut in terms of sheer explorational zest and ambition.

In true maximalist fashion, Wilson and Serries decided that the next installment in the cycle would have to surpass this already astounding achievement in every aspect. Time naturally plays no role in such considerations and so it is a full four years after the last sign of life from what may well be their most daring and experimental outfit that Justin K Broadrick continues their mission by not merely mining a different track, but using the entire second continuum-full-length as source material. In itself, this should seem like a more straight-forward and conventional assignment, as the increased pool of samples, sequences, timbres and effects by default allows for a wider compositional scope and a broader palette of instrumental colours. Broadrick has indeed readily made use of the opportunity, attacking the sounds at his disposal with the hunger of a creative cosmopolitan and a sonic jack of all trades. Taking its queues from uplifting Folk, doleful Doom, spaced-out experimental Acid and blissful Ambient, the record has consequently turned out a dizzyingly eclectic affair, transcending the already massive ambitions of the original and extending into territory neither Wilson nor Serries have previously broached.

This kind of affluence, volubility and complete ignorance of genre-conventions comes naturally to someone like Broadrick, whose career has spawned such groundbreaking and completely unique formations like Napalm Death, Godflesh, Techno Animal, Final as well as, more recently, Jesu. On the other hand, the real challenge consisted in not just blindly rushing in, ripping the material apart and going wild with it, but to regard the process as a form of extended composition and a collaboration in the true meaning of the word. Accordingly, the only track which actually sounds remotely like a remix is the first of four pieces here, a fresh take on „construct iii“, in which Broadrick keeps the harmonic structure - delineated by a soaring Guitar line - intact, while inflating the suspensefully jazzy cymbal strokes of the original into a crunching drum line, as though he were striking up a march (and, especially in the latter stages of the piece, the music actually takes on a bizarre swing). On the remaining titles, meanwhile, his approach is far more subtle and mainly involves the discrete integration of textural, thematic and melodic material into his structures: The massive powerchords of „construct i“ are first skilfully dissected and then organically stitched together again, resulting in the roaring, mantric repetition of a hypnotically brutal riff. The spooky ghost-messages of „construct ii“, on the other hand, now reappear underneath a blanket of warm and woozy sound-waves. More often than not, elements from various pieces are merged on one and the same track of the recyclings, rendering them even more complex and polyreferential than their blueprints.

The amount of restraint exercised by Broadrick translates to an astounding focus. Rather than cramming tracks with ideas, a single invention per piece is enough. Burning indelible images on the mind's eye, the comparatively high amount of repetition this implies also allows him to work with duration and to make use of seemingly trivial effects to great effect. Most stunning in this regard is the third movement of the album. At 22-minutes' length by far the most extensive cut of the collection, its musical material essentially consists of nothing but three just slightly out-of-phase one-note pulsations, one on the left, the second on the centre and one on the right channel. Nothing but crude components on their own, their union creates a vertiginously interlocking rhythmic pattern. At around half-time, Broadrick nothing as so much adds the slightest of warbles to the pattern, a variation which wouldn't even register in a four-minute techno-track. Within this alchemical environment, however, it represents the musical equivalent of an earthquake, causing an immediate shift in awareness and easily justifying the piece continuing with the same relentless monotony for another ten minutes.

Similar epiphanies are hiding behind every corner here. Continuum Recyclings Volume 2 works, because Broadrick seems to be equipped with an instinctive knowledge of when his compositions have reached their point of saturation. Formulating veritable telepathic responses to the ideas proposed by Wilson and Serries it is almost as though he were, at least on this occasion, not just an outsider but a veritable band member – a theory further reinforced by the fact that the front cover mentions the band-moniker, but none of the musicians involved. The more one thinks about it, the less Continuum appears to be about its protagonists, but about the practical realisation of their collective philosophy: That music, thanks to its immaterial and spiritual nature, is truly capable of transcending all borders and surmounting all obstacles. Like a Schönbergean Grundgestalt, the notion actively influences compositional decisions down to their most minute details, regardless of which creative mind may be at the helm at a particular point in time.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Continuum at MySpace
Homepage: Dirk Serries
Homepage: Steven Wilson
Homepage: Justin K Broadrick
Homepage: Tonefloat Records

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