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Juan José Calarco: "Dársena Interna"

img  Tobias

Genius and madness are often closely related. Even though his first releases did not indicate as much, this somewhat cliched journalistic catchphrase may make for a surprisingly accurate description of the work of Juan Jose Calarco. To Calarco, the world is sound and sound is a mystery. Acoustic phenomena are without fail attached to physical objects, yet music remains nothing but an immaterial trembling of air and the subsequent processing of its signals within the ears and brain. What looks simple and straightforward may sound complex and intricately interconnected, opening up new interpretations of visual stimuli and adding meaning to otherwise opaque observations. Pervasive, seductively manipulative and powerful, it appears oddly incapable of existing on its own. What happens once noise is detached from its productive faculties? What would a world made of nothing but sound be like? What hidden narrative connects connects seemingly unrelated acoustic events? Calarco has made „Darsena Interna“ a philosophical treatise of finding out.

Perhaps it is only natural that after spending his educational years with driving down the datahighway and enriching the netlabelscene with various  solo- and collaborational efforts, Calarco should encorporate his entire view of the world into his first physical release. It befits the idealism of someone aiming high and refusing to waste his time with petitesses, that the album feels as though it were the result of a passionate venesection, every vision, theme and concept bleeding from his heart in a blood-red creative explosion. „Darsena Interna“ is serious and serene, deep and dramatic, strangely unreal and surreally intangible and even though it clocks in at a mere 45 minutes, the sensation at the end is one of having just undergone a cleansing ritual of epic dimensions. Even though Brussels-based label Mystery Sea has diversified into the territory of installations before and shown a remarkable talent at avoiding outright repetition while carving out a distinct style, the only previous release on its roster baring any kind of resemblance to the daring radicalism of this oeuvre is Matthieu Ruhlmann's „Broken Vessels“, whose opening track was possessed by the same urge to burn all bridges and consider music a spiritual field and a playfield of ideas rather than a set of rules.

Just how far Calarco is willing to go becomes apparent in the maelstrom of the 21-minute first movement. Drones sound like the electric hum of a power station here, opaque and disembodied. Like a dense spiderweb strained across a geyseric pool, dark and brooding harmonic action is pulsating underneath its surface, like a string orchestra playing a Mahler symphony behind closed doors inside a haunted castle – but one can never fully make out whether the impression is real or merely a figment of one's nervous imagination. Discreet clicks and field recordings are static in one moment only to flare up in a howling wind the next as scenes segue in- and out of each other without any kind of obvious rationale. A particularly intriguing passage consists of nothing but giant water barrels dabbling in subaquatic scales and creating otherworldly pitches in elephantine slow-motion, their thudding tones separated by galactic voids resembling the howling of wind outside. For almost five minutes, the vision perpetuates, leaving the listener in a state of disoriented transfixation. Then, Calarco mans the decks anew, guiding the composition to an almost ethereal ending, which fizzles out into a strangely touching emptiness.

Related motives are scattered across the canvas, each time appearing within a slightly different context and with a subtly nuanced functionality. They serve as constant reminders that this unruly galaxy is, in fact, continuous and inherently connected. „Darsena Interna“ was recorded at all but empty harbour docks in Buenos Aires and the simultaneity of rust, planes of concrete, isolation and invisibly directed machinal activity shines through in the music. The steely debris turns into a metaphor for decay, decline and the defiant will to struggle on. Calarcos impression seems to be that the story needs to be told in full: After all, this wasteland was shaped by days of glory, joy and restless activity alike. Consequentially, he counterpoints its stretches of lifeless solitude with sequences of factory noises and cargo trucks disappearing into the distance. Only the final section has ended up a soft emotional impression: Raindrops are falling on top of a corrugated sheet roof, struggling against the surge of other images in the mind of the spectator and evaporating in the white of gentle apathy towards the end.

Calarco moves artfully through the maze of the world he has created, striking upon some unexpected relationships between his sources and fearlessly subjecting his pieces to some crass transitions and dauntless mood ruptures. As if directing a morphing video of various faces, his camera is panning in an undiscriminating 360 degree angle. Almost like musique concrete folding in on itself, the original material sheds its referentiality as this world of pure sound mixes concretion and abstraction to a degree where both can no longer be clearly distinguished. This is a completely logical consequence of Calarco's experiment: In a world composed of nothing but sound, even the most striking consonances with the physical world are mere coincidences, after all. If this should make „Darsena Interna“'s equally ingenious and maddening narrative hard to follow at times, then that should seem only appropriate with its underlying philosophical outlook.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Juan Jose Calarco
Homepage: Mystery Sea Records

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