orchestramaxfieldparrish presents ÆRA: To The Last Man / Index of Dreaming
Faith Strange

Though To The Last Man / Index Of Dreaming was reviewed previously, this latest iteration expands upon the original's two discs with a third that's equally deserving of mention and justifies revisiting the release. In its entirety, the work registers as a remarkable accomplishment by astral traveler Mike Fazio—aka ÆRA (pronounced “ash-ra”), orchestramaxfieldparrish, and Gods Of Electricity member—and one that can't help but seem like a definitive artistic statement. The recordings present heavily synthetic landscapes that more naturally reside in the upper spheres than on earth. Infinitely long trails of electrical tones—largely guitar-generated—stretch over immense expanses like shooting stars captured in slow-motion, and notes shift and bend as they arc across the heavens.

It's hard not to think of “A screaming comes across the sky, ” the infamous opening phrase of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, the moment To The Last Man's “Elegæa” appears. Dark storm clouds seem to roll across the horizon when the composition's deep, steely tones flare like a synthetic swarm. The sixteen-minute “To Touch The Sky” follows, with micro-noise sputter, suggestive of the rapid chatter of insects or squirrels, punctuating the piece's flowing tendrils of simmering sound. “Ennoæ” introduces a pronounced physical dimension by layering panning percussive patterns prominently atop the synthetic base, with hand drums and anvil-like punctuations lending the piece a naturalistic character. During the ten-minute meditation “Out Of Many, One,” grandiose washes woozily rise and fall, and the droning tones burn fiercely, at one time increasing in volume to an ear-shattering degree before exploding into a cluster of stars. A peaceful synthesizer sonority dominates during the final minutes, strengthening the music's connection to the space-rock tradition associated with outfits such as Tangerine Dream.

Index Of Dreaming eschews conventional track titles for numbers (e.g., “1/1,” “2/2”) but sonically the ÆRA style carries over from one disc to the other, with “1/1” even seeming to pick up from where To The Last Man's epic closer “Ecquænam” leaves off. If anything Index Of Dreaming may be the “purer” of the two halves, as Fazio reduces the second disc's meditations and drones to their essence by largely banishing natural sounds (exceptions being “1/2” and “2/2” where celestial choir exhalations accompany the tracks' sweeping tones). The recording's subterranean drones and sparkling prisms reach an epic culmination in “1/3,” a super-terrestrial exploration where slow-burning waves billow, ripple, rise, and fall for twenty-eight hypnotic minutes.

The third disc, Pæn No. 1-The Paradise Syndrome (a limited-edition included with the first fifty copies of To The Last Man / Index Of Dreaming), was recorded in one take on Dec. 27th, 2008. In keeping with the title (completed by the accompanying “…I have found paradise / Surely no man has ever attained such happiness / Here there is much time for everything / Each time your arms hold me it's as joyous as the first / Each kiss is as the first…”), the thirty-two-minute, two-part piece is in its opening moments even more ethereal than the material on the companion discs. Fazio revisits earlier guitar-generated themes and elaborates on them by adding organ and field recordings (a rain storm and bird collage recorded in New Mexico and Nevada about fifteen years ago). If the first discs suggest travels through the upper galaxies, the third depicts a heavenly garden of glistening tones and choral voices. Thunder cracks, bird chirps, and rainfall gradually emerge too, lending the material an earthy vitality that's unique to the third disc (the disc's second track is a four-minute coda that features field sounds only.)

To The Last Man / Index Of Dreaming exemplifies Fazio's long-standing and uncompromising commitment to the progressive music tradition, electronic or otherwise, and is an essential release for admirers of the orchestramaxfieldparrish set The Silent Breath Of Emptiness which is sonically kin to the new material, regardless of moniker difference. It also will be interesting to see what Fazio does next to follow up such a definitive statement.

March 2009