Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Subterrestrial : Camera Obscure / H-21 : Experimental Elextronics

Reviewed by Cthulberg

Subterrestrial is a dark ambient/experimental music project from the San Francisco Bay Area, spawning ground of a myriad experimental music acts through the last 40 years (+) with an equal myriad musical expressions. Subterrestrial explores hollow earth and subterranean themes that appear in science, literature and religion using a variety of experimental musical styles as a vehicle.

I’m going to cover the two most recent Subterrestrial releases here, as the musical expression differs significantly between the two, starting with Subterrestrial’s third effort ”Camera Obscura”. Straight off the bat it is evident that a lot of preparation was involved in generating the rather complex electronic soundscapes which makes up Camera Obscura. The entire release is delicately executed and managed to keep me interested despite my inherent fear of tracks longer than twenty minutes. Sometimes forceful, bordering on noise – sometimes beautifully and pleasantly complex multi-layered reverberation with more than a little hint of feedback peeking through the veil of databent circuitry. Camera Obscura starts off (and ends) with short signature tracks, and we then get to the heart of the matter with three twenty five minute long slabs of high-grade experimentalism. The title track is the middle ground it seems, quite pleasant and full of details with much room to ”peer” into the soundscape, while Fantasmagorie is more abrasive and is definitely the most accurate portrayal of the psychedelic noisescapes as advertised by the artist. Zoopraxiscope starts out slowly, cautiously, building up tension quite effectively with much ebbing and flowing and is by far the most thoroughly ambient of the three main pieces. It reminds me a lot of some of the newer NWW releases (Space Music etc.) and is masterfully produced and realized. Bravo! It should be added that I have not been able to listen to this more than a couple of times and solely in headphones at moderate volume, so I cannot vouch for the people with audiophile stereo rigs. Chances are this will sound pretty awesome on a good rig though.

Tracklist ”Camera Obscura”:

01 Magic Lantern I

02 Camera Obscura

03 Fantasmagorie

04 Zoopraxiscope

05 Magic Lantern II

Get it here:

Next up is the second Subterrestrial release ”H-21” which according to the artist makes use of harsh 8-bit noise and heavily aliased exotic rhythms to explore the violent life and tragic death of Mata Hari, whose alleged codename was H-21. And rhythmical it is. Very sparse and barren music starts the release off with endless repetitions with a bare minimum of dynamics and depth. Quite the culture shock after the previous release then! Thankfully H-21 diverges from this vein and continues down a more traditionalist path of experimentalism with the next few tracks some of which manage to become quite harsh, for instance H-21 III, which winds up massively and is more reminiscent of the Camera Obscura-release in that there is much room to listen between the lines for most of the track. Track four manages to have almost conventional rhythmical patterns albeit bathed in reverbed low-bit noise to the point of incongruence. The release is brought to its conclusion in a track that is more loosely structured and a much more challenging listen that the other four. H-21 was not as rewarding to me as Camera Obscura, but still managed to pique my interest to some degree, mostly due to the fact that it is shorter, differently structured and another expression entirely.

I still prefer Camera Obscura though, which is highly recommended if you are interested in well-wrought ambience, which is adequately topped up with some top-notch experimentalism. Subterrestrial is definitely on my watch list from now on.

Track-list ”H-21”:

01 H-21 I

02 H-21 II

03 H-21 III

04 H-21 IV

05 H-21 V

Get it here:


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