These are not normal puppets, and this is not a normal soundtrack. @c‘s Ab OVO is a recreation of themes for the home listener, a condensation of ideas that were first used to augment the puppet theatre of Porto. Highly original, incredibly dense and occasionally maddening, the new score creates its own intrigue. What exactly were those puppeteers and musicians up to in the São Bento da Vitória Monastery? And do we really want to know the answer?
The nearly 66-minute work is oppressive and claustrophobic from its very first note. “98” gurgles and fizzes, pops and bends like the best of Zbeen, an electronic miasma with no immediately recognizable form. The sounds are industrial in nature, although without drums. These clanks and echoes are more suited to the boiler room of a factory than the main floor of a dance hall. The drone provides the constant as disparate noises lurk and lunge. As the album progresses, it continues to retreat to this sonic abyss, defying ready definition or interpretation. In its thickest moments, the album wraps the listener in a blanket of charged ions; but in its thinnest moments, the album leaves the listener cold and shivering. Whenever the drone disappears, the warmth disappears with it.
The album as a whole feels entirely alien, the work of a visiting species. On the surface, the sonics seem at times to be random, but curious patterns are embedded in the mix, including certain sounds – a swoosh, a glissando, a percussive pattern – that are separated by regular intervals. But the longer tracks (especially the 22-minute “100”) tend to meander, disappearing down a rabbit hole. One imagines the puppet becoming the puppeteer as the human holding the strings shrinks in size. Without the visual drama, the context is lost. Fortunately, there’s enough treasure to carry the album through a few desert stretches. “101” pairs robotic pings with electronic waves, like Wall-E at the beach. “103” adds drums, sampled and looped, doubling back to confront their own echoes. In the end, we’re not sure what is literal and what is metaphorical, an honest reflection of a puppeteer’s craft. (Richard Allen)