The most disturbing aspect of V is that the music feels capable of manifesting as absolutely anything. Where previous albums have often focused more on the collaborative to-and-fro between O’Malley and Rehberg, their fifth full-length removes all sense of “duo” dynamic; the sounds feel like the dimensions and details of environments rather than the products of instruments, and each piece could quite easily be courtesy of 20 players rather than just two. It’s been easy to forget that KTL started life to score Vienne/Cooper’s production Kindertotenlieder, but V gloriously reunites the project with theatre: this is music of a gargantuan dramatic scale, evocative of moods that feel vivid enough to touch.
“Phill 1” (a nod to Phill Niblock, perhaps?) begins instantly, as though popping a bubble within an anechoic vacuum and releasing the sound; drones arc downwards and then slide gradually up again, moaning like distant evacuation sirens, while a reactive slab of sub-bass dances tectonically with the various drones and overtones that slide over the top of it. Much like Niblock, the music evades stasis in favour of agonising slow motion, and each movement in pitch or volume takes place in the lumbering turning circles of a gigantic ship. In contrast, the progression of “Study A” feels like the product of chance rather than deliberation: sound spills out on its own accord, veering into discordance and harmony like ink left to run haphazardly across a page, with O’Malley and Rehberg feeling less like the composers and more like the observers of chance and accident. Frequencies enter and depart in such a manner that the music appears to rotate and tilt (a quality that recurs throughout V), like shrill and shimmering razorblades balanced precariously in low gravity.
But it’s the latter two pieces that take KTL to an atmospheric scale never previously breached. For “Phill 2”, the orchestral arrangements of Johann Johannsson move in bellowing lurches while the duo drop electronic shrapnel from a aircraft hangar ceiling, spilling across the soundscape’s edges with a density that increases throughout the track’s duration. Soon the “shrapnel” is a gas, swamping the orchestra from all sides and clouding the melody within a bristly veil of trapped electronic static.
Meanwhile, “Last Spring: A Prequel” stands as the most sparse – and perhaps most disturbing – KTL work to date. Jonathan Capdevielle performs a schizophrenic monologue over a delicate concoction electronic scrapes and phantom echoes, as if he’s been left stranded within a cave and driven mad by relentless isolation. It’s virtually toneless, empty – sound is as gas and as ghouls, streaking the audio space with cold absence and cavernous nothing. The piece was actually created for Vienne’s installation of the same name, taking the music of KTL back to adopt its original function, and proving that O’Malley and Rehberg are more capable of fulfilling this role than ever before.