Aphorism: Surge
Tympanik Audio

SE: Epiphora
Tympanik Audio

Totakeke: The Things That Disappear When I Close My Eyes
Tympanik Audio

Three recent releases uphold Tympanik Audio's reputation for dark and epic electronic music-making. There's definitely some degree of kindred sensibility shared by at least two of the three artists, with Aphorism (Chicagoan Josh Pyle) and Totakeke (Frank Mokros) pushing a dark, industrial-inflected hybrid of ambient, techno, electronica, and IDM. Acoustic sounds—piano typically—are occasionally heard but more often than not the tracks are menacing patchworks of throbbing beats, portentous voice samples, and electronic materials. On his Epiphora collection, SE (Sebastian Ehmke) opts for a less aggressive approach which, truth be told, ends up making the strongest impression of the three releases.

Aphorism's Surge (his Tympanik Audio debut album) is pretty much a prototypical Tympanik release: listening to its hyperactive and muscular mix of industrial, funk, hip-hop, and techno, one thinks of words such as epic and dystopic, especially when a Blade Runner-like ambiance haunts some of the material. Moving from hyperactive workouts (“What We See Now”) and epic doomscaping (“Reconsider”) to slightly calmer, midtempo set-pieces (“Negative Two”) and brooding takes on IDM (“Combat Fashion”), the album drapes brooding tones and melodies across throbbing beats, and distorted voices occasionally push their way to the forefront, most prominently in the Martin Luther King-styled speechifying that appears in “Two Sides of the Bullet.” Surge is generally solid throughout with no one track towering over the others, and predictably overstuffed too at seventy-three minutes with a dozen originals supplemented by bonus remixes by Totakeke, Access To Arasaka, and Tapage. “Ulkine” establishes the tone with squelched techno rhythmning, and hyperactive whirr-and-click intermittently sweetened with elegant string tones. A standout is “Chrysanthemums for Carrion” wherein faint hints of drum'n'bass and hip-hop seep into its flute-tinged rumble and crisp beat swing, while a minimal downtempo funk groove undergirds viral tonal drapery in “Msect” (Tapage's makeover of same perpetuates the epic vibe of the original). Pretty much all of it holds up well enough, with perhaps the single exception being “Everything” (“I remember everything, everything…”) which threatens to drown under an excess of hyperactivity and agitation.

Aphorism may be a veritable model of restraint next to Totakeke whose The Things That Disappear When I Close My Eyes presents two discs, the first a baker's dozen of originals and the second ( The Things That Appear When I Open My Eyes) a bonus set of remixes (courtesy of Flint Glass, Pneumatic Detach, Disharmony, Zentriert ins Antlitz, Lucidstatic, Autoclav1.1, and Access To Arasaka) and extra tracks. If Surge sometimes flirts with overkill in the density of its arrangements, Totakeke's 140-minute recording pushes that tendency to an even further extreme. Shredded voice samples, pounding beat throb, swooning string themes, and intricate synth patterning combine to form an ultra-dense electronica potpourri that merges The Terminator's incinerated post-apocalyptic landscapes with Saw's limb-severing nightmares. Totakeke's brooding post-industrial ‘scapes run the gamut from techno-house-IDM fusions (“The Things That Disappear When I Close My Eyes”) to brooding, downtempo cuts (“Lost and Falling”) and an occasional visit to a horror chamber (“Anterograde Amnesia”). “Re-connected Inside” provides a relatively sedate outro to mirror the “The Past Forgotten” intro which eases the listener in. Though Totakeke's vision of the future is as doom-laden as might be expected (as intimated by the heavy, relentless, and indomitable character of “The Future Imagined”), he does allow some light to bleed through the cracks in the piano tinkling that lightens “Start from the Beginning.” The second disc offers more of the same, with the guests nudging the material into slightly different directions and bringing their individualized stamps to it (e.g., the hard, hammering electronica of Pneumatic Detach's “Anterograde Amnesia” mix vs. the menacing techno-funk treatment of “Permanent Note” by Zentriert Ins Antlitz). Lucidstatic delivers a pummeling techno treatment in his “Shattered” mix of “The Things That Disappear When I Close My Eyes” while Autoclav1.1's melodic “Descend” mix of “Lost and Falling” gallops rather jubilantly—a rarity in these parts—and the softer touch applied by Totakeke to “Can't Feel Time” also proves refreshing.

The third label release, Epiphora, is the debut album on Tympanik Audio by SE which—in contrast to the threatening-looking syringe displayed on the cover—is actually the most restrained of the three releases—and all the better for being so. Ehmke's hour-long collection isn't wholly unlike the others—sequenced like the Aphorism disc, Epiphora follows ten originals with three remixes (by Flaque, DNN & Huron, and Quench)—but the album's overall sound seems more elegant and tasteful. In this case, the material seduces the listener with well-considered arrangements and compositional structures, and SE's sophisticated melodic style has more common with artists like Helios or Lusine than Pneumatic Detach or Totakeke. The warm, soothing tones of “15mg” position it closer to ambient than dark electronica, and a strong classical influence is apparent in the lush piano melodies floating through “Aer-.” SE even goes beatless in “No Need For Voices,” a peaceful and beatific ambient setting. Gently swaying hip-hop rhythms entrance the listener during “I Need A Medic” while dub production treatments deepen the beat propulsion of “Komplex_B.” It's not all so delicate, however, as evidenced by the harder-hitting and pulsating bass throb of “Null.” Even the remixes stand out, with Flaque providing an uptempo rendering of “23r0 & Th3 5t4r5” that doesn't lose the melodic splendor of SE's original, Dnn & Huron giving “15mg” a dreamy, piano-laden treatment, and the Funcken brothers (aka Quench) amping up the beat quotient in their bass-heavy, slo-mo dub workout of same.

June 2009