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Demdike Stare - Tryptych

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Artist: Demdike Stare

Album: Tryptych

Label: Modern Love

Review date: Jan. 31, 2011

Somewhere between the ashen, junk-drawer microcosmos of Brothers Quay animations and Phillip Jeck’s moldering turntable textures, lies the endless expanse mined by England’s Demdike Stare. A duo of Mancunian record collectors, Sean Canty (from the Finders Keepers imprint responsible for limited-run reissues of eclectic rarities) and Miles Whittaker summon timbres, rhythms and occasional voices from vinyl bins deep with obscurities — bins so deep, in fact, that 2010 included three Demdike Stare albums. The vinyl-only Forest of Evil, Liberation Through Hearing and Voices of Dust were compiled with 40 minutes of bonus material on the three-disc set, Tryptych. (Also offered up in the same calendar year as these long-players: a small bounty of podcasts and lengthy mixes.)

It’s no wonder Demdike Stare is offering listeners a chance to revisit its abundant output — this tundra of sound requires much more than a casual stroll. It calls for a camp-out. Playing any of these three records on home speakers while choring through the day, their subtle modulations will melt away, their wispy chimeras passing unnoticed. An immersion through headphones, or at pane-rattling volumes, provides the magnification that these cataclysmic environments call for.

Though they may be fiends for needle work, Canty and Whittaker employ their samples sparingly. Maybe it’s just an austerity measure, a means to ensuring the duo’s stock of out-of-print oddities lasts longer. Far from the maddening crowdedness of plunderphonics, Demdike Stare practice seancedelia. There’s a scent of incense mingled with formaldehyde as Canty and Whittaker summon a creepshow piano (the opening of “Forest of Evil (Dusk)”) or slice through warped fog (“Bardo Thodol,” a standout on Liberation Through Hearing). The samples themselves sound shopworn and mildewed, molded into new forms by age, relics and totems.

Purportedly inspired by library music, Forest of Evil‘s two, side-long suites feels less like a chapter of the Demdike trilogy than its extended overture. From the cavernous gusts rushing through side one, ringing stalactites like wind chimes, the aforementioned “Dusk” solidifies into spacious, echo-drenched syncopations. Meanwhile, the juddering, migraine mandalas and steel-plated monsoons of side two (“Dawn”) makes for its doomdsday, dubstep-paced foil. Between the two, the perimeters of planet Demdike Stare is mapped out in all its terrifying vastness.

Splitting the difference between pungent arabesques and ambient drift, Liberation Through Hearing starts on the dubstep path, raining thwacks like glaciers colliding (“Caged in Stammheim”). It slips into droning transmissions and picks up occult murmurs (“Eurydice”) as mystery trains rumble through hail and haze (“Regolith”). But its desolate, dark deposition is sketched lucidly amid flickers, squelches and distortions between the gauzed bass slur and dot-matrix synth trestles of “The Stars are Moving.”

Another marshland teeming with dormant terror Voices of Dust stays the somnambulant course, with added analog rasp. “Hashhashin Chant” is among the most volatile pieces in the Demdike arsenal: a jabbering hoodoo trance that whirls itself into a narco-panic shimmer. “Repository of Light” is among the group’s finest ambient voyages, 11 minutes sluicing through a radioactive winterland, chittering crows overhead and plasmic silhouettes dancing under the icy surface. Squalls of raw-red feedback and spasms of clenched bass push “Of Decays and Shadows” into Throbbing Gristle territory. The bass is equally thick and lumbering as it chases the orchestra pit derangements of “Desert Ascetic.” There’s a stench of blight to closer “A Tale of Sand.” A stylus stuck in a run-out rut sets the pace, but it’s a different motif, silvery and rattling, singing like a distress signal. Rest assured. Demdike Stare is always listening.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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