Some of the most interesting recordings come from musicians who subvert their own perceived boundaries. For example, though perhaps better known as a guitarist, one of the most intriguing solo contrabass recordings in recent memory comes from Joe Morris (Sensor, No Business, 2010); and string multi-instrumentalist Alan Silva, known for his work with pianist-composer Cecil Taylor and trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon, is now often heard on an array of synthesizers. Bassist Jimy SeiTang of Rhyton (and formerly of Psychic Ills) cites pianist Keith Jarrett’s plugged-in work with Miles Davis as a formative influence on his solo electronics work, under the nom de plume Stygian Stride. As he told this writer in a January 2013 interview, “What made a big impact on me was reading a Keith Jarrett interview from that time; Miles brought him in and told him not to play piano, but keyboard. I understood that I had to force myself to be a little uncomfortable. Sometimes you have to push yourself and have others push you.” Here, SeiTang is referring to his stint in Psychic Ills, which was where he really began working with electronics. The eponymous Stygian Stride LP might come from a period of psychological and technical excavation, but the music stands on its own in the halls of modern electronic music and psychedelia.
Employing analog synthesizers, the music of Stygian Stride is clearly indebted to a number of predecessors whose investigations in electronic music shaped the aesthetic landscape of the 1970s — Klaus Schulze, Vangelis, Popol Vuh’s Florian Fricke, Laurie Spiegel, David Rosenboom, et al. SeiTang makes no bones about such comparisons, as his forebears are respected and important. The six pieces on this recording are just that, compositions (as opposed to the improvisations of Rhyton), and they have a direct and painstakingly generated feel. But that’s not to say they aren’t humanist, as it’s clear these pulsing, incisive works are inextricably attached to their maker. They are also surprisingly no-frills and economical as the LP clocks in at just over a half hour in length — for a young and improvisationally-minded player, SeiTang self-edits to the point that the music gets in, does its business, and leaves with rarely a wasted phrase. On the subject of influence, the final piece is, in fact, an homage to Popol Vuh’s work with Werner Herzog, and if it doesn’t directly sample the music of Aguirre: The Wrath of God, “Fade into Bolivian” recalls it with bird chirps, clatter of indeterminate origin, stomach-churning low drones, and temple-raising organs in its brief four and a half minutes.
The opening “Celestial Stems” stacks organ, pulsing and clambering cycles, and thin, nasal arpeggiated washes in a refined clash, burbling concentration nearly upset by symphonic ergs. “Hindsight” is a gorgeous swirling mass set against restive beats and cascades of particulate sound, physical in effect and detailed in scope. While “minimal,” the emphasis on dewy beat and plugged-in depth makes this particular piece lyrical and nearly hooky in reach (dare one say “darkwave instrumental hit?”). The following “Drift” enters abruptly somewhere between John Carpenter and Suicide; one of the most stripped-down pieces in the LP’s arsenal, its concentration is hard to ignore and its jagged entry and exit make it programmatically interesting. The second side opens with the similarly economical “Taiga,” which acts as something of a bridge between the severity of “Drift” and the “pensively ecstatic” vistas of “Bolivian” and the opening two pieces. Ultimately too direct to be atmospheric, any programmatic repetition on Stygian Stride (and there is some) is a valid restatement of SeiTang’s structural terms rather than hinting at a paucity of direction. As a solo engagement of influence, vision, and process, the result is an excellent slab of electronic music. If this record nods in a few obvious directions, one could do far worse than Krautrock or the wet and unsettled dystopian soundtracks of the late 70s — recommended.