Ricardo Donoso: Symmetry
Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of re-packagings, the practice of gathering together previously issued recordings into box sets—in my experience, many seem like little more than cash grabs, transparent attempts by a record company to squeeze a little more juice from its products. Ricardo Donoso's Symmetry, on the other hand, is the rare collection that works better and makes more sense as a whole than as separate releases. Its three CDs (or four LPs) present a cumulative portrait that's in-depth and cohesive, and one comes way from the project thinking that the Boston-based producer must have visualized their interrelated parts from the outset, given how naturally they align.
All of the material originally appeared on Digitalis Recordings—Progress Chance in 2011, Assimilating the Shadow a year later, and As Iron Sharpens Iron, One Verse Sharpens Another in 2013 as two separate EPs—and offers a cleaner sound compared to later Donoso releases such as 2015's Sarava Exu and Machine to Machine. The emphasis on synthetic textures, pulsation, and sequencer-like patterns also suggests that the material would be as comfortable residing on Spectrum Spools as Denovali. In these early recordings, the electronic producer freely indulges his desire for exploration in using his gear to range across multiple stylistic zones.
An occasional voice recording works its way into the arrangement (see “Klatu” and “Overture”) but for the most part the material is sleek, synthetic instrumental music that draws inspiration from American minimalism, ambient, techno, and trance. Though drum patterns are eschewed, the music nevertheless pulses insistently with rhythmic determination (the muscular chug of “Shadow Aspect,” for example); in fact, a good amount of it could be classified as techno if literal techno pulses were present, and it wouldn't take much to convert the swinging 2013 cuts “The Sphinx,” “The Master Game,” and “The Redeemer” into rave colossi. Most of these dynamic tracks motor forward with kinetic, syncopated force at a medium velocity, with Donoso confidently at the controls.
Moods vary from track to track, some sombre, brooding, and laden with mystery, others starry-eyed, tinged with sci-fi, and hungry for adventure. A small number are blissfully serene settings whose impact is in no way diminished by their austere presentation: at the center of the second CD, “Empathy Gap,” for instance, glimmers softly like a fading porch light, while the third disc's plaintive “The Child Primitive” offers one of the set's loveliest exercises in melancholia.As harmonious as Symmetry largely is, Donoso sometimes allows dissonance to subtly seep in, as if wishing to hint at the undercurrent of threat hidden beneath the music's smooth surface. Offsetting the music's hyperactive twinkle and burble in representative tracks such as “From Sterling to Snow” and “The Sphinx” are murky undertows that lend the material a welcome gravitas. To these ears, the strongest of the three CDs is the third; at this stage of the project, Donoso seems to have reached a level of production and compositional excellence that makes the earlier work sound like test runs. But don't get the wrong idea: it's all credible stuff and well worth one's time. At 155 minutes, there's a lot to digest on Symmetry, but the effort is repaid.