(Stunned Records, 2011)
When listening to and reviewing lengthy cassette-side-long movements in synth-drone soundscapes, it pays to allow your mind to wander along with the tone and mood of the pieces, letting them wash over you as they immerse you in their construction and reveal subtleties in their depths. I’ve done this with 1, Voder Deth Squad’s excellent 2011 release on the sadly-now-shuttered Stunned Records. VDS had made it easy on me too, 1 is as transcendent an entry into this style as you’re likely to hear, and I was whisked away to the far reaches of space while entrenched in its reels.
Voder Deth Squad is a collaborative project between two heavyweight experimental artists: M. Geddas Gengras, vet of several psychedelic heavy hitters like Robedoor, Pocahaunted, and Thousands, and experimental drone master Jeremy Kelly. The improvisational recordings were put together through cross-country collaboration, but you’d never know it. Stunned released the two resulting compositions as a “limited edition of 111 pro-dubbed & imprinted c53 tapes w/ double-sided jcard and insert.” So, you know a lot of love went into it.
But that is all terrestrial. So unfortunately terrestrial.
See, the last thing I thought of while experiencing 1 was anything related to this mortal coil – it was all space stuff, baby! So here’s the question, in light of my mystical encounter with this cassette: How am I going to get away with not devolving into mush-mouthed science-fiction gobbledigook? The answer: I’m not. Sorry.
Side A opens on some top-notch space vessel drone, as if the listener is experiencing the vastness of space from deep within the bowels of an enormous intergalactic freighter, periodically glimpsing the star-speckled blackness through infrequently placed portholes in the hull. Each glimpse is a sensory treat. But you’re not always conscious – sometimes you’re in stasis, suspended animation, and you’re simply dreaming of the creaks and groans. But when you are fully awake, forget the portholes – the best place to go is the bridge, where you can see firsthand the wonders of the universe as your craft covers imperceptible but enormous distances at speeds only reachable through intense mathematical calculation. Here you pass a cloud of newborn star matter, there you pass an enormous, ancient terminus of some long-dead civilization. It’s eye candy for the philosophical. Or ear candy, actually, since it’s all in your head, as Geddes’s and Kelly’s synthesizers drone, swirl, and burst in glorious arrays of subtle technique.
Of course it all fails in the end, as the ship’s reactors collapse upon themselves and – like the time B. Bending Rodriguez hyper-modded himself to godlike status beneath Niagara Falls – in the process birth new and unfathomable heavy elements. These elements immediately become sentient, birth new galaxies, reverse gravity, and snuff themselves and their creations out within the tiniest fraction of a second. It’s a relativist’s mad, psychotic fantasy.
And that’s just Side A. You thought I went off the deep end there? Well, Side B’s some straight-up 2001 / Arthur C. Clarke shit.
Imagine, then, a consciousness drifting through space, unadorned by corporeal matter, pure sentient energy observing stars, nebulas, galaxies as it passes through the great expanse. Synth tones blink in and out, reverbed and chasing each other throughout the cosmos. Pass and take in the Eagle Nebula and its famous Pillars of Creation, first photographed by the Hubble Telescope in 1995. (Yes, this links to a science article, but it’s pretty bitchin’.)
Consider the grandness of scale, the unimaginable hugeness of proximity to something so basic yet so unbelievably alien, pure matter and reaction and force. Side B is split into two movements, the first more melodic, a planetarium soundtrack or Carl Sagan’s constant brainwave patterns. But the second is more ethereal, more inward, like the music of the stars but without the need to be filtered through a transceiver – it’s a pure part of consciousness.
(And hey, look at the album cover! I’d say the artwork conjures comparisons to the spectral shape of the Pillars of Creation, at least in suggestion. Don’t you think?)
What results, then, is Voder Deth Squad’s vision of a philosophical and physical freedom where petty Earth matters pale in comparison to the wonders of the universe. And isn’t that what it’s all going to boil down to anyway?
RIYL: M. Geddes Gengras, Jeremy Kelly, AGES, Metamorfrozen, Vangelis