Axolotl Memory Theater

[Important; 2007]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: outer space
Others: Alvin Lucier, Yellow Swans, Double Leopards, La Monte Young

Karl Bauer creates enthralling spheres of sound in which natural imagery and post-industrial smoke clouts peacefully co-exist. Since 2002, Bauer and his companion, percussionist William Sabiston, have created a body of work under the nom-de-plume Axolotl that resembles a map of galaxies, with each piece of the map being equally important as the next. Their drones somehow almost never venture to the overly long, boring realm because they never begin with a generic or redundant premise. Materials are an important part of Bauer’s compositions and he tries to avoid the warehouse clangs and sheet metal bends that the majority of today’s drone set spends all too much time examining. His compositions build, bend and shape-shift at just the right time in order to avoid annoyed audience yawns. Sabiston’s percussion hails from the same spiritual realm as Mouthus’ Nate Nelson’s, in that it’s not simply there to keep a beat; it adds new, relevant points to the space map. Axolotl’s jams may perfectly plot points A to B but one may still get lost in the undercurrent of extraterrestrial movements.

In sum, Axolotl is at the top of the heap of the new, prolific young experimenters out there. Problem is, a good amount of people know this and his limited-run records sell out weeks after their pressing. Luckily, labels like Important enjoy re-releasing such gems. Memory Theater collects Axolotl’s Chemical Theater 12” and Oranur and Object Phantom CDRs. The regions plotted on Memory Theater range from Bauer’s customary interstellar explorations (“Chemical Theater,” “Forclusion,” “Natura Natrans”) and electronic black holes (“Anomalon,” “Bions”) to lands of dark sub-African tribal mantras (“Kingdom of Ends”) and haunted mountainsides (“Lake Garden”). All of the tunes are grounded in the same world that new music luminaries like Terry Riley and La Monte Young inhibit and, eventually, shot into a Sun Ra atmosphere. The skillfully devised track order makes the songs seem like they were meant to be on one disc, ensuring a gentle transition from region to region.

Nonetheless, once one presses the 'play' button, Bauer sets the listener adrift in a sea of layered sound. “Chemical Theater” commences the disc with an ocean of wavering strings, buried piano lines, synth colorings and windy percussion, all melding into one giant, beautiful sound painting. The black “Kingdom of Ends” ventures into a pit of hammering percussion and banshee wails, then envelops into dirge that sounds like a corroded Swans tape. A ball of brightness permeates through the gentle waves of “Natura Naturans,” sparkling with gentle keyboard hits and the nonsensical singling of a gleeful child before fuzz begins to cackle near the end.

The trip is exhausting. By the time the trek reaches radiant color-bar mindfuck “Illiaster,” an 11-minute meditation on patience and stasis, one begins to ponder the journey’s end. The composition barely shifts gears and seems to travel in the passing lane well under the speed limit. Looking back from “Illiaster” at the intergalactic path Bauer draws on Chemical Theater, you’ll be glad you let him lead you this far into his sound universe, even though he left you hanging in space during its final minutes.

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