36: Tomorrow's Explorers
3six Recordings

Never has Dennis Huddleston's 36 music sounded more symphonic than on this lovely follow-up to 2015's EP Sine Dust. Whereas the typical 36 production is dominated by synthesizers, Tomorrow's Explorers sounds at time as if a full orchestral string section has been included in the recording process, and even if the strings are an electronic simulation, it's an extremely convincing one. No matter: for all intents and purposes, the material is perhaps the most luscious 36 material yet far released, which by itself is a rather incredible statement.

As its title suggests, a concept underpins the release, specifically the notion that, with earth's geographical mysteries having been largely exhausted, the next logical step involves the colonizing of planets other than our own. It's no longer a farfetched notion either, as the coming generations will have at their disposal the technological means by which to make that dream a reality. For the first time in human history, the idea that a child might be born on another planet is fast becoming a possibility, and when that moment arrives the concept of home will resonate with profound new meaning. Those intent on making it happen are, in Huddleston's view, “Tomorrow's Explorers, redefining what it means to be human, whilst retaining the very thing that makes us so—our unquenchable thirst to explore the unknown.”

But though conceptually Tomorrow's Explorers picks up where Sine Dust left off, the new release parts company with it on sonic terms by adding string-based sections to Huddleston's customary synths and pads. Much as he's done in the past, he demonstrates an uncanny gift for evoking the majesty and loneliness of space using only a few chords or a simple melody. By adding layer upon layer of strings to the total sound design, “Poekhali” achieves an epic symphonic quality as it envelops the listener with oscillating chords and swelling strings. Whereas a spirit of hopefulness infuses the opener, something approaching awe characterizes “Black Horizon,” its title perhaps an allusion to the astonishment space pioneers might experience as they advance into regions never before witnessed by human eyes. In “Orphans of the Sky,” reverberant synth tones drift serenely, as if suggesting the state of peaceful acceptance the travelers reach in accepting that their voyage excludes the possibility of return. As Huddleston himself states, the recording culminates in the thirteen-minute title track, whose surging synthesizer patterns veritably burst with energy and help transform the thirteen-minute ride into a dazzling, multi-scenic adventure packed with twists and turns.

With four tracks splitting neatly down the middle, Tomorrow's Explorers is tailor-made for a twelve-inch presentation, and its thirty-eight minutes feel like exactly the right amount for a vinyl release (250 copies have been made available in a twelve-inch format). Perhaps one day, Huddleston will see fit to collect all of his 36 output into a single, massive boxed set, and if that day ever comes we'll derive an even greater appreciation for just how exceptional the material is he's produced under the alias. Tomorrow's explorers, indeed.

February 2017