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Phaenon: His Master's Voice

img  Tobias Fischer

To anyone who grew up in the 80s, the term „master of the universe“ will hold slightly cheesy connotations. And yet, sonically speaking at least, that, in a nutshell, is Szymon Tankiewicz's  rather unusual profession. Already on his debut album „Submerged“, consisting of a single, over an hour-long track, the accompanying artwork and literary references revealed a fervent fascination for galactic quests and the endless expanses of space. Tankiewicz  wasn't trivially setting them to music. Rather, his interest was directed at the philosophical questions arising from human contact with infinity as well as from the physical and psychological implications of being exposed to the void. The album took a markedly idiosyncratic approach, dripping tiny drops of ink on a vast, yet sparsely populated canvas dimly lit by the distant lights of a million stars. There was no beginning to this journey, nor was there an end. But for exactly sixty six minutes, one was taken to the extremes of sensory deprivation, to a zone where every sound and each note seemed to convey messages of monumental importance. When online magazine Heathen Harvest reviewed the disc at the time, they aptly invented an entirely new category for it: Dark Ambient masterpiece.

Which poses the question of which new label to apply to „His Master's Voice“. Everything that held true for „Submerged“ is exponentially increased here, after all, including an array of paradoxes: The album offers both a stronger sense of composition as well as a more experimental approach. More supernaturally beguiling timbres and longer stretches of near-silence. More structure and more chaos. As a mystical counterpart to Douglas Adams' legendary world-construction-engineer Slartibartfast, Tankiewicz is erecting galaxies of scant harmony, whispering voices drawn from dark holes, entire solar systems filled with nothing but the faint echoes of symphonies played at a million lightyears' distance.  Even though the liner notes make no reference to the kind of equipment used at the sessions at the „Quantum Ontology Studio“, there is a clear analogue feeling to these rich, sonorous pieces revealing meticulous attention to detail and a penchant for awarding his colors distinct visual impressions: The first movement of the two-part title track isn't merely called „Neutrino Radiation“, it astoundingly sounds like it – if one forgets about the fact that scientifically speaking nothing in space can actually produce any sound at all, that is.

As on „Submerged“, there is a programmatic reference to a novel by Polish author StanisÅ‚aw Lem from the late 60s. An even more depressive swan song to the possibility of meaningful communication with alien life than thematically related „Solaris“ (but perhaps slightly less coloured by the pitch black defeatism that marked Lem's epic late work „Fiasko“), Lem's homonymous book deals with a group of scientists trying – and failing - to make sense of a signal held to be  emanating from an extraterrestrial life form. Rather than translating this sequence of events to sound, Tankiewicz appears to be following the encrypted beacon to its source in an effort of decoding its (as a track title puts it) „Interstellar Semantics“. The score to „His Master's Voice“ can thus be considered an acoustic space filled with tiny clues and references, hints and hidden half-truths, possible links and scattered fragments. While the more tangible passages may, at first, present the most fertile ground for discoveries, the extended stretches of fearful quietude, when the entire orchestra is caught in the short blip between ex- and inhaling, may well yield more answers – if there are any at all.

Even though this implicit conceptual angle may present an additional attraction to the album for some, it never diverts attention from a fact of seminal importance: That „His Master's Voice“ is actually quite an emotionally sweeping experience. By ignoring durational aspects and the recognisable forms they imply, Tankiewicz is capable of culling new shapes from a vacuum: Glowing melodic dots appear against a backdrop of mutely humming nebulas. Rotational rhythms fall apart and dissolve into cosmic background radiation. A single note is repeated on end, hidden from hearing and then re-introduced, chopped up and split at the seams. On paper, this never amounts to much, but once you've floated through a metaphysical haze of pure sound for ten minutes, the genesis of a single short theme can seem like a life-changing event.

This is not an illusion. As befits a true master of the universe, Szymon Tankiewicz isn't just randomly juggling with stars. He's truly building better worlds with music.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Phaenon
Homepage: Malignant Records

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