Rudi Arapahoe: False Self
Rudi Arapahoe

That English composer Rudi Arapahoe's music has appeared as incidental music in film, television, and stage productions makes a lot of sense, considering how convincingly False Self's six settings simulate film soundtrack material. At first blush, they appear to be through-composed neo-classical instrumentals performed by a chamber group; in truth, Arapahoe generated the material by having a computer program he created called False Self, a so-called “algorithmic musician,” compose and play alongside him in real time. Drawing inspiration from the writings of Gregory Bateson and R.D. Laing, Arapahoe's previous release, 2013's Double Bind, dealt in musical terms with an individual's different selves; the new release takes the idea a step further in augmenting the composer with an electronic shadow of himself, resulting in a novel form of 21st-century collaboration.

The recording was produced, incidentally, by four entities, not two: Arapahoe (acoustic and electronic keyboard instruments, tuned percussion, sound design) and False Self (SuperCollider and Roland Integra 7) plus bass flutist Adelina Vazquez and bass clarinetist Cierra Vazquez. Given the production methodology involved, it seems appropriate that some degree of blurring would have set in between the composer and his creation during the recording process, as Arapahoe discovered that with certain adjustments made to False Self's programming, the tables could be turned, such that rather than the program following the composer's lead, the illusion could be created of the composer acting as the accompanist to the program.

All of which sounds fascinating enough, but says little about what exactly the forty-seven-minute recording sounds like. On that count, False Self turns out to be rather consistent stylistically with Arapahoe's previous output. Its understatedly macabre material plays like a soundtrack for an imaginary horror film with the most violent musical passages omitted and only the interstitial, scene-setting sections included. Imagine the foreboding music a composer might have created for a scene showing a search party scouring woods before locating the maggot-ridden corpse. Arapahoe's is like that, minus the fortissimo wail that would have punctuated the body's discovery.

Flute tones and synthesizer textures interweave with percussion accents for nine ultra-atmospheric minutes during “It Becomes You,” which effectively establishes the tone of the material, even if the dread dimension is only hinted at in this mournful overture. That unsettling aura of disturbance begins to assert itself in the subsequent “Mechanical Mask” when glassy strings shudder on high and acoustic piano notes meander through a miasma of fog and almost inaudible surface noise. But while Vazquez's bass clarinet adds to the despairing ambiance of “Chaste,” the elegant ambient-electronic drift of “Ice Carnival” guides the recording out on a slightly sunnier note, similar to how music accompanying a horror film's closing credits might do the same.

Arapahoe's electroacoustic settings generally creep along at an unwavering glacial tempo, and speaking of miasma, False Self's dark ambient would have been a perfect fit for Erik Skodvin's Miasmah label had Arapahoe not chosen to self-release it. Interestingly, in not having the most hypothetically extreme passages included, the material might be even more unsettling, for the simple reason that the usual catharsis the violent passages offer is here denied. The tension seldom eases, leaving the listener's subtly frayed nerves consistently on edge.

January 2017