“This sounds like a headline from a 90s fanzine!” — said, enthusiastically, someone I told about the fact that Jack Dangers has released a new dark ambient album. It’s a symptomatic thing: Dangers’ original project, Meat Beat Manifesto, summarized the highs and lows of semi-mainstream electronic music from said decade (initially classified as an “alternative dance” group, they went on to embrace jungle, dub, and jazz elements in their output), whereas his dissimilar solo works remain lesser known.
Unaccompanied, Dangers reveals himself as a vintage experimental sound aficionado. One of the few owners of a rare EMS Synthi 100 synthesizer, he has created a significant body of musique concrète and electro-acoustic recordings, whose subject matter revolves around the scientific pursuits and bold exploratory dreams of bygone eras. In the 1950s and 60s, sonic discoveries driven by the use of magnetic tape existed in a particular synergy with the mindset of space conquest, architectural idealism, and technological progress; hence, it comes as no surprise that avant-garde art and radiophonic experimental studios, thriving on both sides of the Iron Curtain, often touched on these topics (perhaps best embodied by the visionary audio-kinetic works of the Soviet Prometheus Research Institute). Dangers’ work invokes these aesthetics in a discreet, implicit way, without recourse to a neo-vintage costume, positioning him as part of a continuum rather than a self-conscious pastiche artist. His previous release was the space-oriented Forbidden Planet Explored — half soundtrack to the 1950s classic, half curious analogue effects resembling the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s output. The new one, Bathyscaphe Trieste, is a visit to the oceanic depths.
The titular vehicle actually existed: in 1960, the submersible and its passengers (Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh) reached the deepest known point on Earth’s hydrosphere — Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. This recording is an imagined recreation of the craft’s journey, sequentially following the stages from submergence to resurfacing.
The marine disposition of Bathyscaphe Trieste initially brings to mind the halcyon Science of the Sea by Jürgen Müller, an enigmatic (and, as it transpired, fictitious) researcher and musician who was “rediscovered” in 2010 — but from a purely sonic point of view, the album floats much closer to Lustmord’s abyssal excursions. It’s dark, cold, and somewhat claustrophobic here. To recreate an atmosphere of overwhelming, pitch-black breathlessness and the incredible pressure withstood by a vessel crushed beneath the enormity of the ocean, Dangers uses analogue synthesizer recordings, considerably down-pitched, mirroring gravity and descent. The “deeper” we go, the denser and more disquieting the sound becomes. “Bathypelagic Zone” is filled with a low, menacing murmur; in the “Abyssopelagic” and “Hadalpelagic” zones, higher tones build up slowly, layer upon layer, like long, ghastly shadows.
Dangers’ use of analogue hardware is not simply driven by nostalgia: he matches equipment and sound to temporal context, thereby invoking ghosts from the technological past. It’s not only the subject and sonic content that contribute to the uneasy listening experience, but also the awareness that outmoded devices can still achieve incredible ends. As proven here, old musical technology can be a powerful artifact that possesses a high haunting factor.
P.S. For those in need of cathartic decompression, Bathyscaphe Trieste is best followed by an earlier work inspired by the same intrepid journey: The Chocolate Watchband’s Voyage of The Trieste, whose mild, jazz-tinged psychedelia will provide suitable post-expedition relief.