I first heard the music of Elian (Michael Duane Ferrell) in 2010 with the release of Whispers, Then Silence, an album that hid its appeal beneath folds of sonic cloth. He’s grown much more accessible since then, while sacrificing none of his experimental leanings. Hearing the preview piece “Gamma”, one may think he’s gone electronic/club, but this is deceiving; it’s the furthest he’s gone in that direction, but not the focal point.
“Totality” is so sparse that one might mistake it for a hearing test. Buzzes and pings wander around the sound field, looking for homes to call their own. This exploration of tones plays strange tricks on the ear, especially when a particular tone is excised from one speaker, producing a momentary feeling of deafness. The piece works in context, yet it’s an unorthodox opening track, screening out the merely curious. The title track (twice as long as the rest) continues down this path, extending the duration of the tones while continuing to grant them personal space.
If these low frequency oscillations are meant to reflect the sun’s resonances, the middle pieces operate as solar flares. By now, the listener has been set up for the louder, thicker, more abrasive tones; in fact, one is eager to hear them. “Red” and “Invisible Light” are especially potent. When listening, one is reminded of Chris Week’s A Haunting Sun/A Deconstructed Sun, another electronic work that sought to translate solar frequencies into drone. “Red”s journey into the heart of light also brings to mind the sound design (but not the score) of Danny Boyle’s film Sunshine. It’s a brilliant piece, pun intended.
The unintended irony is the journey that Ferrell himself is making, casting off shadows on his way to a brighter sound. “Gamma” sits right at the heart of the album, pulsating with techno abandon. Can this be the same Elian we’ve come to know over the years? It is indeed. If the ensuing tracks devolve again from smooth to sharp, it’s too late. Not even the industrial “Transition Region” can erase the memories of the shiny core, as a storm cannot erase the memories of the sun. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 1 May