De Rerum Natura / Dance of the Elements begins with glissando bass tones and an electronic field of a thousand little raw, swarming blips and noises, creating what is simultaneously a vast and dense soundscape. Based upon the first-century BC poem by Lucretius, the album attempts to translate the text into an aural experience, with the Roman poet’s innovative style, which turned common words into philosophical concepts or plainly invented new ones when none would suffice, aptly reflected by the mixture of field recordings, spoken word, and electronic collage. The sound of the waves crashing upon the beach is not just the sound of the sea, it is also a sign of a magnificence that has no need for gods, only a nature of which we are but an extension. As the waves clash with piercing drones and grave tones, the panorama shifts towards menace, towards the fear of said gods striking us down that Lucretius carefully dismissed as lack of understanding. That vast and dense soundscape, the poem says, is seeded in something common to us all, atoms of distinct shapes that sway and swerve, a dance at the heart of existence that connects our lives with those of phenomena we wrongly believe to be the work of deities.
We are no longer used to a mythical register of explanation, that style in which poetry reveals the potential to re-create the world, an aesthetic explanation that does not entail a fundamental separation between art and science, mind and body, logic and expression. This is why De Rerum Natura / Dance of the Elements is a valuable work, since it attempts (beautifully failing, as any kind of mythical enterprise in a world that has mythologized reason is destined to) to capture that particular crossing, juxtaposing the sound of a car passing by with that of the ocean’s movement, or electronic bells and bass sound experiments with the voice of a child. The nature of these things is co-extensive, it is sourced from the same seed, but instead of showing it in traditional terms, Merzouga arm themselves with modernist tools to ground that suggestion in contemporary form. Thus, the spoken word bits, which are fragments of the poem read in English and in Latin, are not really explanatory introductions, but more aural pieces in the development of the 38-minute piece; they play the role of the language that never succeeds in containing the world it continually refers to.
If Lucretius’ mission is understanding, Merzouga’s seems to be analogous, to provoke reasoning around the nature of the sounds that make our eardrums dance. Their interpretation of the poem pushes us, as listeners, to hear expression in a car horn, to try and understand just how the voice of a human is or is not the same as the voice of another animal – there are many examples like this throughout the album, and it is uniquely geared towards thinking in terms of sound, taking one step beyond the cadence of words and integrating it into a wider world of sonic effects. Just like the world is not a poem, it is not music either, but attempting to engage with the expressiveness of it all is not merely a way to simplify philosophical thought, it is a way to amplify its relationship to something warm, something that is always moving, something that is right in front of our eyes and yet remains unseen, that invisible dance that brings each and every one of us, like stray sounds meeting, into a vivid mixture of interwoven frequencies. (David Murrieta Flores)