Issued on a tiny 4GB microSD card housed within a small clear plastic case (in a limited edition of 100 copies), Tsalal, Hebrew for the concept “to grow or become dark,” is the first physical release by Ariadne, the Brooklyn-based ‘sacred music' brainchild of Christine Lanx and Benjamin Forest. Picture an hour's worth of Gregorian chant-like vocalizing and hymnal choral textures blended with bold experimental treatments and electronic soundscaping and you're on the right track.
In a typical Tsalal production, disembodied voices distorted by digital effects interweave with brittle percussive accents and synthesizer flourishes while Lanx's pure soprano glides gracefully over the convulsing terrain below. The hour-long album is cohesive in tone, yet avoids repetitiveness in mixing short and long pieces. After “I Thirst” inaugurates the release with a succinct statement of intent, “Forsaken” and “Spare Me” stretch out for twelve and seventeen minutes, respectively. It's understandably in these settings that the fullest portrait of Ariadne emerges, and one comes away from them not only impressed by the vocal control Lanx sustains throughout but also the daring backdrops the duo fashions to accompany her singing—a juxtaposition that is the crux of Ariadne's distinctive sound.
“Forsaken” wends a controlled path for the better part of its presentation, though things do turn tumultuous during its closing minutes, with the lead vocal temporarily receding from view and the backdrop experiencing rupture. Opening clangorously, “Spare Me” soon settles into place when Lanx's slow expressions are shadowed by streams of granular smears and stutters, though here too the music takes a nightmarish turn as it enters its final stages. “The Shadow,” the album's most extreme track, parts company with the other five settings in coupling Lanx with a writhing roar of caustic combustion that would do Merzbow proud.
It's easy to imagine Lanx being the envy of any number of classical vocalists, given the dramatically provocative musical outlet Ariadne affords the singer. Small in number, one presumes, are the operatic vocalists lucky enough to augment their usual professional gigs with a daring, electronics-heavy side-project. It's also worth noting that supplementing the music are corresponding videos featuring synchronized digital renderings so that you can be entranced by visual stimuli whilst being dazzled by the duo's music.