Traject: Strengir Hrynja

“Laroche & Dolson,” Gisli Thor Gudmundsson's Traject contribution to the recent Ai compilation Station, certainly impresses as an accomplished example of cold Icelandic IDM, but it hardly prepares one for the incredible peak that is Strengir Hrynja. It's about as perfect an example of dark, claustrophobic IDM as might be imagined, an uncompromising work that echoes Autechre's EP7 in experimental spirit but advances beyond it to inhabit an even more challenging and abstract level. Even better, its six textural soundscapes weigh in at a perfect forty minutes, with one track a remix from fellow Icelanders Einoma.

The album opens with the stunning “Water For Muddy People” which packs a most astonishing amount of detail into its eight-minutes. Gudmundsson fashions a slow, lurching pebbly groove showered by spindly alien tentacles, phantoms voices, and creaking noises. It introduces a signature Traject effect, criss-crossing bouncing ball rhythms of thrumming clatter. The mood is hypnotic, heavy, and submersive, as the listener gets sucked into the track's nightmarish undertow. “She Said” maintains the peak level with a portentous opening of bass plucks and machine hum that segues into a congealing funk beat of bass throbs, pinched squalls, and seizure-induced pinball beats. The piece approximates the sound of synapse firings magnified a thousandfold, or perhaps machines choking on themselves, their guts spewing forth. Incredibly, “Chkal” matches the quality of the opening tracks with a steamrolling clipped beat so massive it sounds like it might decimate anything in its path; majestic themes declaim above while shreds of voices and howls litter the snapping beat. “Path” is a more elastic construction which, in spite of its abstract soundscaping, exudes a funereal mood. In this case, thrumming bass plucks and bouncing ball patterns entropically expire amidst wheezing exhalations and electrical shimmer. A clacking beat occasionally rises to its surface, giving it some semblance of regularity, but is almost drowned out by garbling and distant voices. The set ends with “She Said (Einoma remix)” but there's little disruption in continuity as the remix's dense arrangement of metallic clangings, brooding strings, and percussive pops doesn't noticeably deviate from the Traject style.

Strengir Hrynja represents a peak for Traject but also for the relatively new label Spezialmaterial, based in Zurich, Switzerland. Certainly it's indebted to Autechre and Gescom for its general style but Gudmundsson boldly pushes the album into an even more challenging realm of cold, abstract IDM. Listening to it, one marvels at its construction while being simultaneously awed by its alien sonic universe.  

May 2004