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Dirk Serries: Microphonics I-V [Re-Issue]

img  Tobias Fischer

Dirk Serries's decision to close the lid on his alter ego vidnaObmana has often been portrayed as having been inspired by the desire to work with guitars and loops. In fact, both have been an integral part of his aesthetics almost straight from the beginning. Canonical techniques added a dream-like grace to his classic The River of Appearance, for example, and if one subtracted the machinal slow-motion beats from 2004's Legacy, the resulting textures, intricately interwoven and of a mysterious impenetrability, did not sound entirely out of tune with his first steps into drone territory a mere year later. What really motivated Serries was the realisation that, despite having reached recognition as an innovative composer and meticulous sound sculptor, his ambitions had gotten out of hand. Fear Falls Burning was an attempt at regaining the rawness and innocence of his first recordings, a stab at feeling the physical resonance of metal strings underneath his fingers instead of spending endless solitary hours in front of a monitor, splicing and cutting virtual events with a digital scissor. While the move would end up saving his passion for music, it laid bare the dualistic nature of his artistic persona, continually caught between a hunger for progression, a penchant for minimalism and a desire for continuity.

It is therefore anything but an exaggeration to claim that Serries's crisis of the early millennium was only fully resolved on microphonics i-v, an album of crucial importance in both creative and personal terms. Rather than fanning out into Ambient, Industrial, Contemporary Composition and Electronica, it allowed him to guiltlessly work with and within a single sound. Rather than pressuring himself to avoid repetition at all costs, he would now find personal measures of renewal. Instead of, Jackson-Pollock-like, stacking layer upon layer of paint on top of each other, his new sonic imagery was of a striking sparsity, resembling confidently drawn blue lines on an otherwise completely white canvas. It wasn't a volte-face, this time, rather a shift in nuances, subtle shadings of tension rather than full-blown release. As the balance in Fear Falls Burning gradually tilted towards complex studio productions constituting acoustic worlds of their own, microphonics was a work in progress, a succession of spontaneous efforts at realising a particular idea – and each new attempt, however accomplished or refined, only served to raise the bar by another notch.

In this expanding body of work (the series will reach number xix on the upcoming tour with Hellmut Neidhardt's N-project), microphonics i-v still stands out, and not just because these four tracks (interestingly, part i is not part of the package, even though it is mentioned in the title) are the first recorded documents of the new approach and as such present the philosophy in its perhaps most pure state. They also differ from following episodes by having been recorded at a studio rather than on stage, which may explain for their pervasive mood of solitude, sorrow and tranquility. And while all subsequent releases were highly limited offerings of 300 copies, the re-release of the album on CD marks it as a constant reference point, whose availability is not just a question of demand but of artistic necessity.

As such, those already owning the original vinyl-version, of which, as an aside, a few final copies are still available, need not expect the kind of exciting bonus tracks and vault-clearing archival material that accompanied the recent Fear Falls Burning re-issues. Three minutes have been added to „microphonics ii“, a couple of second to two of the other pieces – nothing that would seriously question or devalue the original versions. Still, as with the more Ambient-leaning output of FFB, the music has certainly not suffered from the digital transfer, sounding more crisp, crystalline and transparent than ever, while merely trading in a tad of the vinyl's golden radiance in return. As always, however, the new format reveals valuable ideas about the logic behind the compositions and how they relate to later entries into Serries's catalogue. Concluding „microphonics v“, for example, acts as a bridge to what would come, its epic architecture and multi-angle topography pointing to a future, in which themes would gradually dissolve into seemingly solid structures, while opening up into myriads of micro-cycles on closer inspection.

„microphonics iv“ and „iii“, on the other hand, impressively demonstrate how Serries works with gradual shifts to create effects of dreamy calm and discrete disorientation. On both, motives are at first placed in a clearly defined relation with each other, creating hypnotic mantras against a backdrop of slowly gyrating and growing melodic side-themes. Already at these early stages, most of the material that will come to define the development of a piece is already present in an embryonic state. Slowly but surely, the music approaches a climax in terms of density and momentum, at which a break in continuity occurs: Either the components constituting the core loop are suddenly severed, causing them to run out of sync with each other. Or they start superimposing each other like various layers of paint, as a result of which some information is lost, while formerly invisible parts and qualities are suddenly brought to the fore. In either case, the entire feeling of the piece is transformed, as the listener plunges from his focused meditative trance into a seemingly infinite ocean of inventions spiralling out into all directions. Even though (as on „iv“) the loop may return to its starting position at one point or the other, or the initial themes may re-appear from underneath a dense mass of tangled-up notes („v“), the logic and mood of the piece has changed forever – for a music built exclusively on loops, it remarkably feels anything but repetitive.

The reward is an acoustic experience which is as remote from the soothing relaxation of traditional Ambient as it is from the surrealism of dark and noisy soundscapes. The skill of the performer, however, lies not in creating confusion, but in avoiding it. A Violinist once asked Stockhausen: „Mr. Stockhausen, how am I to know whether I'm playing at the rhythm of the universe, as you requested?“ To which Stockhausen replied, smilingly: „I'll tell you.“ Similarly, these rotating harmonic dreams always appear to point to an underlying organisational principle. The magic is that they never quite tell you what it is.

By Tobias Fischer

Dirk Serries is taking Microphonics to various concert halls in Germany and the Netherlands, starting October 30th. For more information, check his personal website.

Homepage: Dirk Serries / microphonics
Homepage: Tonefloat Records

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