Akira Rabelais: ...bénédiction, draw
Orthlorng Musork

Los Angeles resident Akira Rabelais distinguished himself with his previous recordings Elongated Pentagonal Pyramid and Eisoptrophobia (released on Mille Plateaux's sister label Ritornell in 1999 and 2001 respectively) and now continues to do so with ...bénédiction, draw, a recording unlike anything else you've heard. Like compatriots Ekkehard Ehlers and Stephan Mathieu, Rabelais is an original, a digital explorer firmly focused upon charting experimental territories—an artist tailor-made for the equally original Orthlorng Musork. Rabelais has the additional distinction of being the creator of the audio processing software Argeïphontes Lyre whose time domain filters generate algorithms that subtly distort and transform pre-existing sounds. Indicative of his poetic sensibility, Rabelais gave the filters evocative names like Evisceration Reanimation, Dynamic FM Synthesis, Time Domain Mutation, Morphological Disintegration, and the Lobster Quadrille.

A brief description of Eisoptrophobia highlights how different it is from ...bénédiction, draw. Eisoptrophobia consists of digital re-modelings of twenty piano pieces, most by Satie and Bartok, with four by Vincent Carté, a Rabelais pseudonym. Applying his Argeïphontes Lyre treatments to the pieces, they become faded transmissions from a hazy past, their nostalgic aura enhanced by their fragility. While the working methods of Rabelais and Philip Jeck are radically different, Eisoptrophobia shares with Stoked the desire to resurrect the ghostly remains of a phantom musical past. ...bénédiction, draw, by comparison, uses no piano and has no canon of classical melodies upon which to base itself. The seventy-one minutes of sounds on ...bénédiction, draw are generated entirely from Rabelais' electric guitar recorded directly into his laptop in single passes and filtered with Argeïphontes Lyre. The pieces are descended from a set he wrote between 1987-89 titled ‘short poems for steel string guitar' under the name Carté. The atmospheric, ghostly music flutters incessantly, and mutates throughout eight tracks, each in the eight to nine-minute range. Much of it has a suspended quality, of time stretched out, elongated, with overlapping waves of strummings that variously suggest guitars, harps, bells, and dulcimers constellating about a central drone. This deceptively 'pretty' music of lustrous filigrees and aural wisps exudes a meandering, seductive ambiance. It's a haunting reverberant sound that, in spite of its cool digital sheen and glassiness, feels natural and inviting. The melodies are vaguely defined, as if Rabelais is sculpting his sound as an aural analogue to the blurred outlines of a Gerhard Richter painting. No one element carries a melody but instead crystalline elements coalesce to suggest them. It approximates a hocketing process where instruments build upon each other in constructing a melody. The repeating shimmers vaguely recall the minimalistic woodwind patterns Steve Reich uses to such great effect on Music For 18 Musicians, but there the similarity ends. Reich's piece unfolds systematically according to a pulse that extends throughout its sixty minutes; Rabelais' approach is much more impressionistic, with no grounding pulse locking things in place. Given that 'benediction' stands for the short blessing at the close of a religious service, the title itself provides a hint of the music's meditative, atemporal character.

Rabelais' past tellingly hints at the course his music making eventually would take. Growing up in the desolate spaces of South Texas , his childhood fascination with sound was borne out by his first musical instrument: metal plates strung along a fence whose tonalities rang out when he shot them with a bb gun. A similar sensitivity to tonality permeates his music today. Rabelais' music demands that one recalibrate one's accustomed listening practices. A first exposure to ...bénédiction, draw may disappoint due to its seeming sameness, a reaction exacerbated by one's familiarity with Eisoptrophobia, memorable not only for Rabelais' treatments but its source compositions' poignant, timeless melodies. Admittedly, that melodic dimension is less immediate and overt on the remarkable ...bénédiction, draw but its numerous other strengths compensate for that shift in emphasis.

September 2003