Review: ssabæ – Fractal Archipelago

WABI-SABI TAPES.

Tempo is a matter of perspective. Just how the progress of a single day runs concurrent to the arcs of larger, slower transformations, each track on Fractal Archipelago is a zone where all rates of movement can be simultaneously perceived: urgent pulsing beeps, steady plonks of synthesised bells, earthen drones steering on gigantic turning circles. Fast, slow, slower. It’s no novelty to find music incorporating various divergent speeds, ssabæ flattens the focal hierarchy so that no single rhythm floats to the fore. The listener is stranded, seasick, between the abrupt and the incremental, the dots and the lines, unable to lock upon a single sound without feeling another pressing in at the edges. Though dizzying, Fractal Archipelago makes clear the intrinsic link between micro-sound and the supposedly “static” nature of prolonged drones. The former is the crucial ingredient of the latter, and every extended tone exhibits as much quivering instability as the fidgety cut-ups of voice and reversed brass that encircle it.

Perhaps the most head-scrambling cut is “mirrored lights”, through which slow electronic glissandos – both up and down – form a lattice of whirred curves, twisting stereo space into a helix. Muffled recordings of conversation ricochet around the edges, occasionally seeming to break into warbling song or graven wailing, although those arcing drones seems to distort the emotional air of the space, refracting smiles into frowns and vice versa. On “The Queen Of Silence”, the flow is in the other direction as small gestures impress themselves upon the large – jittering snippets of voice and breath agitate the whirr of feedback, like a flock of moths bringing dappled intermittency to the steady glow. The entire record seems poised in brittle stability, as if all of the instruments, and all of the modes of time, are quietly repelling one another. ssabæ can only hold them in contradiction for so long.