From the Taj Mahal’s piedra dura to the vacant hallways of Bush House, the curves, crevices, and balustrades of buildings hold power to inspire the most sublime compositions. The creative connection is multifaceted, where music conversely inspires architecture and specific sites evoke memories, passions, and emotional responses associated with recorded sound. The variation of possibilities that emerge from the first instance are exceptionally fascinating, where anthropocentric history clutters designed space to assume a hauntological disposition — a subjective rendering of past lives that have used bedrooms, abattoirs, and prayer rooms alike with distinctive purpose — versus components that separately trigger a number of artistic forms through their physical appearance. Works resulting from either method hinge on how inspirational spaces, scenes, or settings are addressed (with the atmospheric handling of abandoned offices at the former BBC HQ being a recent favorite), but they are always dependent on the artist’s relationship with them.
Huerco S. — whose real name is in the public domain, but who prefers it detached from this moniker — looks to Mississippi mounds and pre-Columbian landscapes for inspiration on his debut album, Colonial Patterns. He explores the constructions’ appearance, in addition to their material makeup while reinterpreting the means used to build them. As 11th-century earthen heaps, they might not inspire the jagged thrust of contemporary orchestration or the pristine caress of ambient strings, but the base foundations and organic composure of these historic sites allow for a fascinating angle. The Kansas artist has an interest in depicting the transportation and arrangement of construction paraphernalia as well as its substance, which echoes throughout the album’s burrowing bass lines and thick, muffled pulse. Those materials are depicted through his stylistic approach, while the structural design process runs across each composition; he fashions an aesthetic from the repetitive beat structures of house music, while burying them deep beneath a mountain of scuffed synth and sonic textures, all sopping with mud and soil.
Where the enigmatic UK producer Burial achieved some personalized vision of the down-and-out through his bass-propelled depiction of after-hours urban melancholy, Colonial Patterns is similarly geared around a specific sociocultural mold. Both depictions harbor similarities; where Untrue derives emotional character from close-knit housing estates and 24-hour cafes, Colonial Patterns takes an equally observant standpoint, but from a pre-Columbian era: the Cahokia Mounts were built as part of a settlement that indicated social hierarchy among its inhabitants, where the person at the top was highest in the pecking order because they were closer to the sun. Height is hardly out of sorts with contemporary urban planning, but that feeling of routine strife, of obtaining a higher plateau, ripples throughout the album as “Quivira” crunks its rusted, metallic frame into deep, pious whispering. Then there’s “Monks Mound,” which also seeps heavy motion with hushed voices and solid bass blocks. Huerco spoke about the inspiration for these pieces during an interview with Juno, and although structure is essential to the record’s direction, it’s the material and the means of arranging it that lace the design. That’s the main difference between this and any other reflection of a social environment: Colonial Patterns feels like the substances used to create the monuments that inspired it, and the effect is sensationally addictive.
The album is plied with a thick, fictile quality, where each beat feels as though it’s been buried and left to decompose — the natural remnants of structures they represent. These are cavernous, powerful chapters that develop gradually in their length as they take on some mighty form; “Ragtime U.S.A. (Warning)” drowns glittering chime in a quicksand echo, as it chunders forward with splendid effect. Huerco S. embraces this environment in the context of a back catalog that pulls from alternate sources; Colonial Patterns is a massive departure from the refined house EPs and dancefloor mixes he has released over the last two years. His tactics have always reflected the determination and curiosity of a producer excited by the possibilities of electronic music — Aphelia’s Theme dropped in May this year and sounds as if it were produced by somebody else entirely; the deep synths, clear cut 4/4 thump, and glistening snares couldn’t be further from the damaged, murky shallows of the record at hand. It amplifies the distinct sound Huerco S. is prying open here, and that makes him all the more exciting — it’s like he has been sharpening his tools since the moniker’s inception, refining his craft only to put out a release that’s at complete odds with everything that came before it.
Although the approach might be idiosyncratic and the inspiration out of the ordinary, that smothered aesthetic touches on styles that have been tackled by other electronic musicians in the not-too-distant past. “Angel (Phase)” sounds akin to the shadier moments of Actress’ R.I.P (I’m thinking of the entombed thud on “Raven” or “Shadow From Tartarus” here). That muted, covered feel was also beautifully explored by Voices From The Lake on their debut LP, but in place of the aquatic influence that went far beyond the depths of the Italian duo’s moniker, Huerco S. immerses his tunes in loam-like textures, yielding a forceful submergence. But such stylistic differences also have an impact on emotive response; when Actress sought contrast in the veiled grace of his tracks, he laced them with crystalline synth sequences without impairing his strategy (which is why “Glint” is such a gorgeous interlude), and Voices From The Lake leaned heavily on the marine samples that ran through their gorgeous techno tirade (“Iyo” starts with such a sample, which is replicated with synths and effects throughout the album). But when Huerco S. wants to project a sense of elation on Colonial Patterns, it’s tricky, because such a diversion would completely alter his angle. Instead, he uses softer, gritted tones that run just beneath the surface of an echoic crackle or rumbling bass shudder.
Consequently, Colonial Patterns resembles the claustrophobic endlessness of the Cu Chi tunnels more than it does Monk’s Mount, where the artist invites you to live and breathe an environment of close earth and confinement. Part of Huerco S.’ genius is that he is able to accomplish this while making the experience an unpredictable delight. The album finds a comfortable space among predecessors that have been inspired by not only landscapes and architecture, but also precise textures and materials; there is a feeling of entrapment, as opposed to a sweeping representation of what surrounds, where the content treads through a grit-laden, dusty maze. The air is dank, the walls tight and restrictive, and the only escape route is forwards; thrust into the darkest caverns without a speck of daylight, and it gets harder to breathe along the way. Transforming such intensity into a product so bewitching is an incredible effort, and the resulting works leave very little doubt that Colonial Patterns is more than some admirable interpretation — it’s a ruthless conquest.