Fern – Illustration of Sound Waves

Posted: 6 February 2022 in Albums
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Dret Skivor – 4th February 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Either delayed or having skipped January, Dret Skivor’s latest monthly instalment marks quite a shift from December’s spoken word / harsh noise assault. Fern’s Illustration of Sound Waves belongs to the field of sonic microanalysis: specifically, as we learn from the minimal notes which accompany the release ‘The source of inspiration and foundation for the entire compilation have been the possibilities and limitations of the buchla 208c’. The ‘legendary Music Easel instrument’ is a modular device, and a fucking expensive piece of kit to boot. And yet it, like any other instrument, device, or programme, has its limitations.

Tonal range isn’t one of them, and nor is its capacity to create eerie electronic soundscapes, and there are plenty of both on Illustration of Sound Waves. I would perhaps be interested to hear of Fern’s frustrations, and also his motivation for this intensely-focused exploration of the buchla 208c. Many such releases offer extensive explanations of the process – sometimes to the point of excess,

‘Closed Geometry (Circle)’ bleeps and blips, while ‘Action & Reaction’ paints a haunting scene, based around sharp needles of feedback and warping, curved drones. ‘Blame the Wires’ is a classic modular synth noodle, a cyclical, repetitive motif looping hypnotically over a subdued echo of a beat, pulsing gently in the background. ‘Apparatus A’ sinks deep into the depths of swampy murk. The beats are subdued and muffled, and the entire EQ is pitched into lower and mid-ranges. There’s a slow, growling oscillation somewhere deep in the mix, and it’s a grating, Suicide-like drone that sneers and snarls on the heavyweight ‘Way of the Waves’; waves that pulse and grind and groan and thicken and envelop.

There feels like there’s a distinct and definite trajectory to the album, as the sound grows darker and denser as it progresses: this changes with the pairing of the final two pieces, which mark a rapid return to bubbling, bleeping circuitry and sound, in many ways, like an escalating meltdown of circuitry. This feels like a fitting finale to the album, as well as an apt conclusion as we melt into the waves, drowning slowly in a sea of static.

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