Fans have been waiting a long time for this album. rotor plus (r+) began its trilogy in 2000 with alleron and continued it in 2004 with map key window. Much has happened since then, not only in history but in music; the world has changed so much that already the new millennium no longer seems new. Give credit to the forward-thinking intelligence of the artists involved for the fact that the old material seems only slightly dated, while the new seems ahead of its time.
Look no further than the word CD-ROM to see the distance travelled since 2000; rotor plus’ first disc includes the quaint instructions on how to install the necessary software. alleron was born from a love of sound, music and space; the liner notes explain that the music was first heard in an installation, and that rotor plus was later contacted with the offer of a music contract. It would be difficult to imagine a label putting in more work than The Radiophonics Trading Company of New Zealand, happy to surround the music with a hardback book, as well as the aforementioned images. This packaging is consistent throughout the trilogy, guaranteeing a sharp appearance on the shelf.
Unusual electronics are a key feature of the rotor plus trilogy, although their form changes across the course of the three discs. alleron contains the type of glitch tracks that resist form and categorization; they are just as likely to settle into a groove as they are to wander and pop. Melodies are allowed their place, but never allowed to rule the recording; that position is left to experimentation. Spoken word occasionally plays a part, yet refuses to provide an anchor. It’s as if rotor plus is toying with expectation while offering just enough accessibility to retain the curious listener. The real treasure is the closing track, “end-mapping the world”, a nineteen minute, slow-growing drone that eventually turns into a beat-driven groove and makes one wonder why few other artists have walked this path.
map key window is a different beast. The piano is more prominent on this album, with notes often stopping abruptly, as if their tails were erased on a reel-to-reel. The beats defy definition, taking coffee breaks in the middle of tracks only to return recaffeinated. Silence and space are integral features of the set; the listening experience mimics that of walking between rooms. Take “middle-a scrappy piece of paper with your name on it” for example: after five minutes of cricket electronics, a massive bass breaks out, only to dissipate in seconds. While the tease and lunge continues to unfold deep into the track, the template is invisible. We want the bass, or at least we think we do, until it’s no longer there and we’re no longer sure.
Fast-forward – or slow-forward – nine years, to dust. The beats are gone, as if no longer needed, as if rotor plus has said all it wants to say about beats. This future is calmer, more sedate, more like the opening half of “end-mapping the world”. This is the end: the end of a trilogy, but more importantly, the end of an experiment. For the third time, rotor plus has released an album in February, which in the Northern Hemisphere is indicative of spring and new awakenings. But this is New Zealand, where Februaries offer the final warm comforts before the slow descent into winter. dust offers a sort of farewell, a coda, a final comment on the explorations of over a decade. It’s also the richest of the three albums, bordering at times on modern composition.
The album begins with a crackling noise that even sounds like dust: the dust of distant galaxies, the dust of dreams decayed, the dust of discarded efforts: the half-life of sound being reached. This fire-like crackle leads to a shocking entry of strings, a requiem of sorts for all that has gone before. Even the sub-track titles contribute a sense of finality: “the absence of geometry”, “the memory of the photo long since lost”, “the last physical object”. There’s a strong chance that this will be the last physical object from rotor plus, which would be a shame, as this trilogy remains a document out of sync with time. We’re used to listening to music to hear what comes next, and rotor plus has been ahead of its time throughout its journey.
As parts of alleron still retain the tone of the precognitive, it is likely that dust will endure – even more so than the other two albums, based on its linear trajectory. The substitution of strings for drums makes the album the smoothest of the trilogy; the sudden transitions are replaced by gentle easings, like those of a tearful lover lowering a dying companion. The black-and-white photography is forlorn: portrayals of deserted roads, abandoned cords, and strangest of all, a textured rectangle, adding a tactile reaction to those who purchase the physical copy. A fearsome sadness permeates the recording, as if rotor plus knows, this is it. But if dust is to be the act’s final will and testament, it’s certainly the way to go out: with music so vibrant that it gasps for air, desperate to leave this world without leaving a single crucial note unplayed. (Richard Allen)