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Review: Retribution Body, "Baphomet"

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Inbox #10: Real Life Ambient Top 10

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Automatisme & Stefan Paulus, “Gap/Void”

Although they form the substrata from which this collection of many-layered tracks stem, the field recordings collected by the Swiss artist and academic Stefan Paulus in the Alps and the Arctic Circle have been so heavily manipulated they register only in the most subtle ways throughout much of his debut collaboration with ex-Mille Plateaux labelmate William Jourdain, aka Automatisme. 

This is an album of two pretty distinct halves, as encapsulated by “Säntis,” the album’s opening track. Released ahead of the LP, “Säntis” serves in hindsight as a kind of Gap/Void miniature, splitting down the middle to demonstrate what Jourdain and Paulus bring to the table as individuals. Like the album’s first five tracks, it bounces heavy pulses and trademark clicks around the merest hint of an alpine crevasse – present insofar as there must be something there for the electronics to ping off as opposed to real sense of looming mass. There is a natural frigidity to Automatisme’s work anyway – as with most of what we might label “glitch” there’s not a lot in his catalogue you might turn to as a blanket – but even the knowledge that Paulus’ folded, layered and spliced field recordings are somewhere in the mix adds an additional freeze. The clicks, metallic and sharp, bounce and scatter like hail to create an overwhelming sense of entrapment; there is nowhere to turn that won’t shear your skin. Even the foundations seem to grumble as deep avalanches of bass rise and tumble. But then it stops. And out of the silence rears something even more threatening in the shape of Paulus’ source material, a seemingly relatively untouched wail of Arctic wind that practically obliterates the mic in a vicious blizzard of whirling hoarfrost. It is the antithesis of Jourdain’s construct in origin; the mirror image in claustrophobic force. 

Automatisme takes hold of the next several tracks. applying his own techniques of signal processing and micro-sampling to the source material provided by Paulus. The results are surprisingly straightforward at surface level: “Marwees,” for example, skips briskly by on a tribal series of bass bumps, with a distant churn of gusty atmospherics hanging in the background being the only notion of anything remotely askew. It stands out only in its refusal to crest, collapse or explode, making for a tense few minutes if never quite thrilling. “Üble Schlucht” is more immersive, bringing in the gushing torrents of the titular gorge to provide menacing depth. Jourdain’s dubby pulses build, grind and skitter like rocks drawn across the riverbed, a propulsive tumble of ever-growing mass and clambering complexity strengthened by cold swelling waters. On a technical level, the tracks are impressive – repeated listens will reveal further layers and tiny details, while Jourdain’s handling of innumerable moving parts is a wonder of coherence. Take “Blau Schnee,” opening with tight focus on a single lonely pulse, dripping with the persistent clarity of melted glacier ice before opening out to encompass a system of subterranean chambers quite shocking in their vastness. 

The second half of the album focuses on Paulus’ field recordings, manipulated by the Swiss artist himself but free of Jourdain’s most overt embellishments. As such, they are largely beatless, relying instead on wavering base tones and environmental hum to move them on. Although Automatisme has put it all through granular reprocessing, the source material is far more evident – “Schwarzhorn” and “Wisshorn,” for example, play out like dark ambient tracks, all deep, growly gusts and distant, snow-choked wails. Where the album’s first half dealt in depth and enclosure, the second leaves you frightfully exposed to the elements: “Tothore” and “Nob” are closer to noise music, flipping things upside down by burying beats under myriad searing layers of static that multiply whenever there’s a threat of surface breach. And you’re up there the whole time, on the outside taking a pounding – you long here for the nervy anticipation of “Marwees” and the cold claps of “Stoos” become veritably inviting in hindsight, with their driving pulse redolent of a heartbeat and all the warmth that comes with it. It’s within this paradox that the brilliance of Gap/Void really presents itself, demonstrating a vital symbiosis between two artists of disparate background and technique wherein each sends the listener scrambling in the direction of the other.