The label description for Oren Ambarchi’s Sagittarian Domain observes that the 33-minute piece, which in fact makes up the entirety of this album, becomes stuck in “a voodoo groove like Faust covering a 70’s cop show theme,” an observation that to a certain extent isn’t all that far off the map. Indeed, the self-contained, pulsating mini-epic that Ambarchi lets sit relatively unencumbered focuses on the forceful and obsessive repetition that has for many overwhelmingly come to characterize the 70s Krautrock movement. While that rigid and robotic aesthetic, dubbed “motorik,” is a distinct creation seeing shape in that period (perhaps most adamantly and brilliantly explored by Neu!), using such a reductive, superficial observation to characterize that movement as a whole is problematic (especially when attached to a band as notoriously diverse, bold, and freewheeling as Faust). As such, these assumptions and misconstructions have often bled into the minds of those paying rather blatant musical respect to the glory years of Krautrock, and have thus rendered a good chunk of modern material in this mold as staid and meandering.
Even an established and brilliant composer/sound artist like Ambarchi is not immune to these pitfalls. Though, to his credit, Domain carries a deeper conceptual and spiritual alignment with the greatest innovations of these aforementioned Krautrock bands than many of those who’ve tried and failed to render similar transcendent tributes (I’m thinking specifically of the rather tedious jamming exhibited by acts like Predator Vision, Teeth Mountain, and Man Forever). By letting a single, partially unchanging song take up the entirety of his full-length statement, Ambarchi is embarking on a bold yet potentially disastrous endeavor, and as the propulsive groove that anchors “Domain” continues unabated for most of its runtime, the success of the piece depends on whether or not said groove is able to sustain interest. Ambarchi’s synthy bass tones, pounding percussion, and jittering guitar plucks are constructed into an unbreakable, inflexibly solid force, so concentrated that the first third or so of the piece lets the groove ride through with little change. While this backbone is itself a decently enterprising rhythm, its character is cliché, coming across like a preset rhythm for Krautrock on a cheap Yamaha keyboard.
Ingrained flaws aside, Domain is far from a complete loss, as Ambarchi wisely embellishes the unbending groove with a wonderfully dynamic and ethereal assortment of treated guitar, electronics, and strings. This ambient assemblage is rendered with a vivacious spirit, one that lifts “Domain” out of its motorik abyss and provides it with a temperament that reflects sincere appreciation for the meticulous nuances and carefully-rendered textures that were arguably the greatest innovations of Krautrock artists like Michael Rother and Manuel Göttsching. “Domain” only deviates from its one-track mind in the final five and a half minutes, which is dedicated almost solely to the string trio that appears within the piece’s second half, thus providing a gorgeous coda that certainly deserves its own separate existence.
Sagittarian Domain is a noble quasi-failure, an enjoyable and driven jam that, despite its reliance on certain tired tropes of its obvious Krautrock influences, nevertheless succeeds when it focuses its exploration on texture. Perhaps it would be in the best interest of a talent as unequivocal as Ambarchi to give a project like this another solid try.