M. Geddes Gengras: Collected Works Vol. 1 The Moog Years
Umor Rex Records

Oftentimes I look forward with great anticipation to hearing the latest recording by an artist long familiar to me only to find myself underwhelmed upon hearing it. Then there are those rarer times when I listen to the latest work by an artist less well known to me and be, frankly, stunned by how unexpectedly strong it turns out to be. The latter scenario came into play when I listened for the first time to M. Geddes Gengras's Collected Works Vol. 1 The Moog Years and in particular its opening piece “10/17/2009.” This large-scale epic is one of the most majestic examples of electronic-ambient soundscaping I've heard in a long time, and the way its creator straddles the fine line between control and release throughout its twelve minutes is a wonder to behold. M. Geddes Gengras, by the way, is a key player in the Los Angeles experimental music scene who's been involved as a member/producer of a number of outfits, among them Sun Araw, Pocahaunted, and Robedoor.

Something tragic must have occurred on “10/17/2009,” given the mournful tone the piece strikes from its first moment. Gengras works with a small and repeating number of layered melodies, all of which rise and fall slowly and more critically exude a beautiful sadness that verges on overwhelming. The information accompanying the release clarifies that from 2008 to 2011, he recorded improvisations on MOOG ROGUE and MG-1 synthesizers live to 4-track (along with occasional modular synthesizer accompaniment), and so the gear he used to generate the album material isn't a mystery. Having said that, the range of sounds produced in “10/17/2009” suggests instrumentation beyond those mentioned. Organ appears to be present as a shimmering background, while the shuddering and at-times howling themes at times sound like the product of an effects-laden guitar—certainly the scarred timbres suggest as much. Regardless, the crushing weight of the total sound-mass is incredible, resulting in a sound design characteristic of figures like Tim Hecker, Fennesz, and Rafael Anton Irisarri.

Such a dynamic piece is assuredly a hard act to follow, but the recording's five other tracks—four in the five-minute range and one twelve—more than hold their own, especially when they broaden the range of styles beyond the opener's. While shorter and comparatively quieter than “10/17/2009,” the more conspicuously electronic setting “Resistor” achieves a similarly plaintive effect in its slow-motion unfolding. “Untitled #4” finds Gengras focusing on the modular synthesis end of things and puncturing the track's placid restraint with a series of turbulent blasts; by contrast, “Untitled#1” anchors its chiming ruminations in the deep bass swells of the Moog synthesizer. Also strong is “Magical Writing,” which revisits the sound design of “10/17/2009” but this time uses it in the service of a massive kosmische drone that expands and contracts magnificently.

I'm glad to hear that Collected Works Vol. 1 The Moog Years (presumably the first in a projected series?) has been made available in a vinyl limited edition of 450 copies (with the first 200 on red coloured vinyl and the rest on black) as that's really the best possible format for material of this kind (so long as the vinyl quality itself is at an acceptable level). To hell with the neighbours: put it on and turn it up in order to experience Gengras's glorious sound at its most powerful.

October 2013