By BRUCE DENNILL
Deep Spacer are an experimental musical trio – Jonathan Crossley, Cesare Cassarino and Etienne Oosthuysen – dedicated, in their words, to “non-composition”. They set tempos and they use a finite number of technological tools (electronics, Ableton studio software, drums, bass and guitars), but everything beyond that is more or less free game.
To launch their album, 433 Eros, they created an hour-long video presentation that is as visually arresting as the music is sonically striking. That immediately makes it possible (or necessary) to question the philosophy behind the project, as permanently capturing melodies and arrangements that were devised as improvisations surely undermines the spontaneity of their origins?
Nevertheless, once the bizarre, often beautiful but occasionally disturbing visuals begin behind the music for the title track, which opens the collection, such existential crises are quickly put to one side as the viewer wanders into space, accompanied by one of the collection’s strongest grooves. A disembodied voice, its message just muffled enough to be unclear, accompanies the throbbing, dysmorphic digital bust of a head – Crossley’s, perhaps? – as 94 Aurora kicks off, sounding like a dark Thom Yorke dream and building to a discombobulating crescendo.
The presentation pauses then for an intellectual amuse bouche, a message about the excitement of improvisation and the unbearable dullness of knowing what comes next. If viewers/listeners were not already out of their comfort zones, they’ll be nudged there by this notice.
Ironically, then, the next track, 704 Interamnia is relatively restful. It begins with near-conventional picked guitar over an image of a sunrise, swells to a quiet-ish storm over a digitally windblown desert and then returns to the reflectiveness of the opening sequence. If this composition seems unexpectedly simple, the next message, about engagement and creativity arriving when aesthetic goals are realised and new ones are imagined, gives a clue that it’ll all take a turn for the edgy again soon.
So it is: 128 Nemisis fires off with staccato, uneasy guitar anchored by a more traditional rhythm against visuals of a street march that is similarly tense – possibly a scene from Troubles-era Northern Ireland, with kids on a roundabout behind a mob and soldiers with guns in front of it. And 31 Euphrosyne soundtracks similarly dark images, of injured men on stretchers or transported in ambulances, but with almost soothing, jazzy music that doesn’t allow the development of the sort of angst you think you should feel watching an unfolding narrative on a battlefield. The piece looks like a lament, but it doesn’t sound like one.
Another message, about the “beauty of the machine”, is followed by 9 Metis, which finally includes images of the band – snippets of the band performing, set on a loop to a driving drum groove, ambient synth sounds and a bassline that emerges to give form to the piece. Discordant guitar flourishes are added in layers as it progresses, uncomfortable yet compelling.
A final linking message, about the “cyberbody” enhancing the real body before 1 Ceres, perhaps the album’s least persuasive tune; electronic ambience over scrolling, blurred computer coding. It sets the stage for a fantastically punchy closer, however: 16 Psyche begins with a powerful, distorted riff over footage of a street riot before flashing back to the computer coding with a gentler, though off-kilter instrumental phase before returning to the riff and repeating the cycle. It’s a formula that means the presentation’s audience ends the collection on an adrenaline high.
It may not be enough to guarantee that they return to the start of the album and begin again immediately, but they will know for certain they they’ve experienced something enthralling and fascinating – music, but not as they know it.