Integral: The Past is My Shadow
Given that three years have passed since Integral's Tympanik Audio debut Rise, one's initial inclination is to think that its latest collection The Past Is My Shadow spreads itself across two full discs because the group has been bankrolling tracks during the three-year break. In fact, the material on The Past Is My Shadow precedes Rise, as the German duo David Rotter and Rafael Milatz produced the release's eighteen tracks between 2002 and 2006 when they went wherever their muse took them and with little concern for genre. Though the word is overused, in this case the word epic truly does apply, as Rotter and Milatz often build these previously unreleased tracks into intense mini-epics of great drama and portent. The pulsating, synth-heavy pieces are laden with orchestral strings and woodwinds, and sometimes include ponderous spoken word passages, too. While an Integral style comes into clear focus, the material is nevertheless consistent with the Tympanik Audio template in its emphasis on dark electronica and digital production design.
An overview of the collection's tracks provides an impression of its stylistic reach. A strong opener, “Als Wären Wir Niemals Gewesen” pursues a classically tinged pathway through raw dark electronica terrain, with Integral elevating the melancholy piece with strings and an oboe's mournful cry. That Integral was open to a panorama of styles and genres during this formative period is borne out by the material. “Pop Realtá,” for example, seems to draw from the exotic Middle East in its macabre dancehall rhythms, as does “Synthie Raga” in its incorporation of tablas and sitar-like drones. The insistent techno pulse powering “A Taste Of Your Future” comes as a welcome addition to the group's sound, especially when it arrives fifty-five minutes into disc one when a boost of energy is needed. If the track doesn't quite recast Integral as a club act, its throbbing groove at the very least nudges the group in the dancefloor's direction.
Disc two perpetuates the first half's epic style with the grandiose sweep of “Asphalt Architechture” [sic] and the creepily atmospheric “CPU Fairytale.” “Githarsis” extends the instrumental sound into an electroacoustic zone by adding classical guitar and acoustic bass to the group's combustible swirl. The penultimate piece, “Radio Sehnsucht,” revisits the phantasmagoric and encompassing style of the opening tracks, while the sombre title track finds Integral at its most orchestral, with oboe and flute added to the duo's intricate beat programming.
A few years ago, the duo, in describing their approach, said, “We believe that electronic music can sound very digital and still have a “human feel” to it. We try to make music that touches both the brain and the heart.” The goal is certainly reached on The Past Is My Shadow as no matter how complex and dense an arrangement might become, the emotional dimension never gets lost in the process. Integral's fundamentally plaintive and melancholy sides always speak through the music clearly, and more often than not The Past Is My Shadow registers powerfully as a result. If there's a downside to the release, it's one of length: even the most devoted Integral fan might found him/herself exhausted by the amount of material collected. The first disc alone features seventy-three minutes of music, and one is certainly well-sated by it even before the fifty-five-minute second half begins. Pardon me for stating the obvious: maybe the better strategy would have involved selecting the best tracks and issuing The Past Is My Shadow as a single, hour-long set instead.