When the first Demdike Stare tracks appeared, little over a year ago, Miles Whittaker was accused by one of our writers of opportunism, because he embraced library music and hauntology at a time when those two genres were wreaking havoc with blogs, webzines and music mags all over the world. It was a time, remember, of glory for Mordant Music, Leyland Kirby, the productions of Ghost Box and Miasmah and, well, for anything reeking of reinvention of the past. Reinvention of the memories and sounds of various previous decades, through the blurry filters of memory, applying in the process a phantasmagoric effect which helped to both blur the outlines and dislocate the manipulated memories, so that the music (and with it, the listener) would lose it’s balance, in a way, and lose contact with reality until it was stuck in the limbo of some future that never was.
With “Symbiosis”, as was the title of that album, Whittaker and partner Sean Canty wanted to play in that league, and in order to do so they used every trick and tool the aforementioned artists did: drones, radiophonic interferences, monstrous echoes, mutant dub, snares with altered resonances and sonic resources taken from old horror films from the seventies and eighties. But, although they did add certain personal elements, percussion and oriental melodies taken from obscure library music releases, an aesthetic very much marked by the morbid and the esoteric, by all things related to death, sickness and human decadence; in spite of those distinguishing details, the result still seemed fake and artificial. A style exercise, on which technical perfection and sonic sensationalism seemed much more important than the transmission of emotion. Listening to the record, one noticed something was missing, something that had been lost in the process of shaping that well-made-up collage.
Luckily, both for Demdike Stare and us, “Symbiosis” turned out to be just a training exercise. A first stage, during which Whittaker and Canty were measuring their power and greasing up their weapons, needed for the shaping of the ambitious record they have been keeping themselves busy with for the better part of 2010: a trilogy of vinyls that work as a trip to the world of the dead; the soundtrack Charon would play when taking his passengers to Hades. A trilogy that finishes with the recently released “Voices Of Dust” (though not entirely: Modern Love is planning on compiling the three vinyls in a box with extras, early next year), and that has overcome its hauntologic tendencies in favour of a dark and toxic kind of ambient, leaning towards isolationism, on which elements of electro-acoustics and musique concrete (references to Eliane Radigue and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, for example), radiophonic experiments, old film samples, sound effects from some dusty vinyl, crackles and modular synthesisers squeezed to the point of insanity mix, with ethnic (mostly Middle-Eastern) details and elements of modern electronic music: techno-dub bases, IDM-like ambient fantasies, dubstep-flavoured rhythms and even a pinch of house. All this is living inside the music, which at times works as a complex and colossal collage (the two pieces on the first part, “Forest Of Evil”, for example) and sometimes as a gigantic echo chamber, full of shadows, in which the sound swells up, sucking up any life form: that’s what happened on the better part of “Liberation Through Hearing”, the second part of the trilogy.
“Voices Of Dust” starts with the lament of a tape machine, a manipulated and plaintive drone, welcoming the listener to Demdike Stare’s world of shadows and oppression; launching them towards the raw shamanic rituals of “Hashashin Chant” (which is reminiscent, by the way, of Villalobos’ “Enfant (Chants)”), only to take them to the quiet waters of “Repository Of Light”, a long piece of ambient techno decorated with a jazz piano and special effects sway over the track’s surface. After that there’s darkness: “Decay & Shadows” and “Rain & Shame” take down echo boxes and modular synths to extract noisy and poisoned moods, with barely perceptible field recordings in the background. “Desert Ascetic” recovers the couple’s taste for invented soundtracks (with a strong flavour of horror films, for the occasion), adding subtle oriental details to the mix which explode in all their splendour on “Viento De Levante”, on which ritual percussions return in the interior of a weird atmosphere, paving the way for an ending on which sombre songs continue, noise masses moving menacingly over “Leptonic Matter” and “A Tale Of Sand”, while some sad melodic cutting is trying to make itself heard.
As in their two previous releases (and their two mix-CDs this year, “Osmosis” and “Industrial Desert”, only less), “Voices Of Dust” ends and the listener is left behind with the soul shrunken, in awe of the blackness and poison that has been coming out of the speakers, afraid of the secrets that could have been uncovered by a handful of songs that, as we said, look for a place on the border of the worlds of the living and the dead. It’s the same uncomfortable feeling you get when you enter the Chapel of Bones in Évora, where you’re welcomed with a sign that says, "Nós ossos aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos" (“We bones, lying here bare, are awaiting yours”). Don’t say we didn’t warn you.