‘World building’ is a concept I’ve seen used mostly in literature and videogames, but there’s a rarely recognized limited measure of it that’s been used in popular music, primarily in prog rock, in which fantasy and sci-fi have historical significance inasmuch as they were counter-cultural vehicles for newer, better worlds and critical analogies. Fluid World Building 101 With Shaman Bambu fits right into that story, a fully instrumental concept album that tells a utopian tale of ambient, electronics, math rock, and playful pop. It is not, however, aiming for listeners to get lost in the density of detail, being presented in the form of a beginner’s course accompanied with the prototypical cosmogonic figure, a shaman we know only as Bambu. We are meant, in a very modern way, to build a new world with him, to put all that density of detail not in the service of a story but in that of the daydreams that paint our surroundings with new and hidden joys.
There’s a surrealist undercurrent to the whole album, and I mean that in the full sense of the word, carrying, in its fantastic images and the juxtaposition of seemingly distinct realms of sound (a Don Caballero-style guitar riff and rhythm here, a Sean McCann-style crystalline drone there…), the promise of an imagination without constraints destined to re-make the world in its own image. A task as serious as this requires an equal measure of humor, which Dustin Wong handles deftly: the beginning of our lessons is a “Nite Drive With Shaman Bambu”, a sweet and complex track full of short honking drones and sharp metallic sounds that at times seem like comic voices holding a silly conversation. With the idea of a lesson in movement, ambient is put to work as an active process in which perspective and perception can be changed; its almost inherent passivity is here reversed into sounds that demand attention, at all levels of listening.
This is how a “World Builder Imagines a City”, and through the old-school electronic sounds it’s easy to see that Fluid World Building’s surrealism is one of interfaces and operative systems, its electronic bits crackling and darting with brightness as a melodic riff continually swirls around them. The album’s tools go beyond the surface of the canvas and the poetry of the unconscious – Shaman Bambu, regardless of his natural-sounding name, seems closer to the networked subconscious, the cascading, jeweled sounds of “Dawn Thru the Marble Parthenon” a landscape of computerized automatism. The music is filtered by a classicality that points towards the electronics of the early 2000s, but in a way distinct to the scorched-earth approach of vaporwave, reorienting them through collage into an intense creative experience, the result not a first-hand view of our culture in decay but a toolset with which to punch holes into it. Each track is a world in itself, and you could conceivably spend hours on each just making out every little piece of the aural puzzle. Instead of ‘solving it’, however, you’d just be adding to Shaman Bambu’s weird, off-kilter network of interpretations, set in motion by human action but altogether driven by its own electric impulses.
The album’s ending, “New Societies Interacting, Let’s Zoom In”, shifts as if you were tuning a radio dial through a dozen stations, a brilliant drone underscored by quick glitches and accompanied by a computerized voice that sings nothing in particular. Like a scientist observing from without, the track hints at the way that all these fantastic creations in which the listener’s participated by means of imaginatively synthesizing sound and image (there’s simply no standard visual of a “Cup of Seashells at Neural Tower”) linger in the mind long after the music’s over. I can’t stop picturing these worlds as strange kaleidoscopic landscapes in old computer-graphical styles, their fluidity a result of no monolithic will being able to give finality to their form, belonging rather to the wide collectivity under which those graphics first came to life. Unlike the worlds usually built by literature and videogames, these ephemeral constructions led by Wong’s music are commensurate, in a way, with reality itself, glitchy electronic dreams in the wake of matter we are yet to upload to our neuronal archives. This fluidity is, then, one of perspective, of possibly transposing your imagination to your surroundings and build your own: an inverted ambient promise of listening as active agency upon the world. (David Murrieta Flores)