Review: Ben Vida – esstends-esstends-esstends

“Higher amplitude will help to reveal” claims the press blurb of esstends-esstends-esstends. True to word, increasing the playback volume appears to push the walls outward and backward, ballooning the sounds themselves to bigger sizes and shunting them to extremes of distance. The album toys with the listener’s place within the music and does a remarkable job of evoking the illusion of three dimensions within the stereo field; sound is no longer “on the left” or “to the right”, but can quite easily be “over there” or “just in front of me”.

Vida’s base material (created with a computer controlled modular synthesizer) tends to be very elasticated in its pitch and movement: tiny beeps ping into the foreground as if held taut and released, squelches of bass stutter to a near-standstill before rekindling their momentum out of nowhere, while other fragments twitch and quiver like little muscular spasms. And when sound isn’t restlessly on the move, it’s poised uncomfortably off axis – frequencies are often weighted asymmetrically, tilting the listener’s sense of balance by dumping generous loads of bass frequency on one side or the other.

The album’s best moments come in split-second flashes that evaporate the second they’re acknowledged: the watery droplets on “Pin Ans Sweep” that collapse into angry sub-bass crunches, the taps and pops on “Qweek Plus Enner (Outro Too)” that sound like marbles being dropped on a smooth table, the sliding drones of “Zizzlerz” that seem to suddenly turn the world on its side. In fact, it’s this last example that best highlights what makes being immersed in esstends-esstends-esstends so compelling: as a listener, I don’t feel like the anchoring centrepoint by which placement and distance are measured, but like a floating fragment of Vida’s sonic flux – free to be thrown and pinged through imaginary space along with the sounds that whizz by and above and beneath.