Review Summary: plucking the strings of mind and matter.“The harmony of the world is made manifest in form and number, and the heart and soul and all the poetry of natural philosophy are embodied in the concept of mathematical beauty.”
When Scottish biologist and mathematician D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson penned those venerated words some time in the early 1900’s, the matters of geometry’s relationship with the order of the natural world was, for the most part, lost on our freshly industrialized society. Sure, the ancient orders of long ago grasped a comprehensive understanding of what is now commonly referred to as sacred geometry
millennia before our time, but it seems much of the deep wisdom found in their esoteric understandings of our place in the universe have gone unredeemed in the Western world. It wasn’t until pioneers like Sir D’Arcy began to take the modern scientific method to these matters that they regained a foothold in the conversations about how
the things that surround us take on the forms that they do. Why do snail shells, fern leaves and cabbage heads spiral out in a perfect golden ratio? Why, if one connects the points of a hexagram to the inner lines of another, larger hexagram, three times over, do you get a perfect relationship between the mean orbit of Earth and the mean orbit of Jupiter? Why does Venus trace a perfect five-pointed flower in our night sky exactly every eight years? Is it random chance? Are they clues to the innumerably complex algorithms of a simulated universe? Or are these wonders truly the fingerprints of something more divine? These questions are of little concern in the context of this review, but they’re the kind of questions that the evocative music of AES Dana always makes me ponder.
Since 1999, when this incredibly talented producer from Lyon decided to pair up with Sandrine Gryson and launch the Ultimae Records imprint, deep trance and ambient downtempo electronic music have been quietly scripting a revolution in how the lines between sound, consciousness and the geometry of physical space can relate to each other. Whether it be through his own early works like the masterful Memory Shell
, or some of the more contemporary outings from the likes of Martin Nonstatic and MikTek, it’s a body of work that’s been nothing short of steadfast across its two decades of operation. Every release, every song, every moment in this catalogue of sonic architecture has a higher purpose, and it’s an incredible thing to behold if you have the patience to meditate on the spacious soundscapes on offer. Among the highlights of Ultimae’s illustrious tenure is, of course, AES Dana’s own discography; one that has brought us timeless classics like Pollen
, and one that has steered the direction of the label (and the greater spheres of psybient music as a whole) for many years. His production techniques, attention to detail and creativity in both sound design and arrangement have always been years ahead of most producers, striking a perfect balance between mysteriously opaque and monastically clearheaded. With his latest outing, (a) period
, the notoriously friendly resident of Lyon is back in grand fashion.
Riding the coattails of 2019’s Inks
full-length, (a) period
further propagates AES’ gradual shift from trance and psybient towards compositions with a greater emphasis on physical space and geometry, morphing complex rhythms juxtaposed by tryptamine-laced voids of ambience into a towering monument of metallic beauty suspended in a fine mist. It’s a wondrous place to be. The sights of girdered steel rising into the clouds, the taste of ocean air, the touch of those intersections between nature and human ambition; they all converge into a place that is truly immersive. While “Foreward” spurs our eyes into focus as you approach this mysterious habitat, “Transverse Axis” comes through with steady rainfall as what was once a distant vista begins to loom ominously overhead. The waters are calm as you float through this revelatory labyrinth of seawater and iron, but this… this… thing
towering above you is beckoning your mind’s eye to climb its ranks. You dock your vessel along a decrepit berth nestled in the embrace of a large pier encircled by myriad beams of riveted ferrics above. The static energy coursing through the veins of this great behemoth have gone from an inkling suspicion to a foreground sensation that electrifies your skin ever so subtly as “A Bluetiful Day” plays through. What could possibly be the source of this curiously omnipresent galvanism?
“Somewhen” instigates the long ascent of discovery up a scaffold staircase drenched in the harbour’s humidity. The railings are cold, and certainly indifferent to your explorations, but amidst that ever-present static things still feel alive between the drag of your fingertips and the cracks of decay laid upon those lengths of grayish-silver balustrade. By this point it’s certain AES Dana knows exactly
what he’s doing, as if there was ever any doubt to begin with. (a) period
is, above all else, an extraordinarily vivid journey through a space that is as much physical as it is cerebral. It’s a space nestled comfortably in the brackish waters between reality and the voids of unknown thought, as if it were a lucid dream come manifest through the magic of vibration. This dreamlike state is why we always show up for new material from Vincent Villuis (the man behind the alias), and this is why we find ourselves constantly retracing well-trodden ground in hopes of new discoveries. It’s a frame of mind we all inherently seek, should we feel courageous enough to admit it, because, as Carl Jung once put it whilst scribing hope for something more illuminating than our mortal flesh, “the dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness extends.”
Indeed, to be humbled and struck by a state of awe is to dissolve into the universe, become it, and allow it to witness its own beauty through the windows of your soul. It’s a task that involuntarily dissolves that wretched ego you cling to in your day-to-day life, and it’s exactly what overcomes you when “Befallen” marks your arrival within the endless geometry of steel and concrete that compose this wholly gargantuan structure you’ve been striving towards. Here, upon a rare flattop, you gaze in endless directions only to be met with the sight of impossibly complex arrangements of beams, girders, struts and fastenings. Who created this awful thing rising out of an otherwise tranquil harbour? Or, what
made it? While “Haphazard” might offer some clues to towards a peaceful origin, the alien signals and sharp textures of “Evermore” cast a shadow of uncertainty towards the prospect that this monolith is even of this dimension. After all, how could something like this exist within the linearity of time yet still form the impossible shapes and maneuvers that are bore before you? Alas, to reach resolve much must be explored.
Amidst the silence and foreboding quietus, these endless marvels of engineering form memories of movement suspended in a perfect stillness. Struck by the first inkling of rational motion on “Overpass”, your thoughts run wild as you hobble over and through countless rungs, traversing evermore unexplainable sight and sensation along the way. After a moment of reprieve, “Ambivalent” now pierces the dense mist, growing clearer with every step until you finally set your vision upon a gilded Flower of Life, spinning in the fog at centrifugal speeds and encased in orderly frames of platonic solids made of warping I-beams nestled like the orbits of Kepler’s visions. This must be the source of it all; the creator and the witness and the destroyer, at once and simultaneously. The sheer amount of information contained within this writhing work of sacred geometry can’t be known, but surely felt. No carbon-based lifeform or congregation thereof would be capable of manifesting such a sight, and that static whose presence has been prickling you since arriving is now ascending in frequency to the point of audibility. It rings out as unfamiliar music now, from a wholly other
place, and before long, sigils and symbols and memories of times past bleed together in that thin film that separates your senses from your mind’s eye on the dénouement of “Evocative”. They tell you that the time to wake up grows nearer, but were you ever asleep to begin with?