Brett Naucke The Mansion

[Spectrum Spools; 2018]

Styles: synthesized memories, New Age photo book
Others: TALsounds, M. Geddes Gengras, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

Few subjects inspire the same distinctive mixture of romance and dread as our own memory. That same process that allows us to build a concrete, meaningful picture of our own lives, in its absence, becomes a horrifying signifier of our own eventual end, a dissolve back into empty signals with nothing to perceive them. Plenty of artists have tackled this back and forth, whether it be the decaying paranoia of Leyland Kirby’s work as The Caretaker or the playfully warped nostalgia trips of Oneohtrix Point Never. But a recurring theme in works about memory is how essentially unreliable it is — what’s meant to be a concrete record that we might turn to for reference is ultimately defined by its own cracked logic, its slow fade an inherent flaw of its impermanent design.

With his latest release, Chicago modular synthesist Brett Naucke has approached the melismatic aura of memory by attempting to rebuild his childhood home through sound. The Mansion gives and creaks with all the resonant texture of a building ravaged by time, its walls built from colorful synth patches and stabs of noise rather than brick and mortar. Naucke’s sounds are eerie and comforting in equal measure, painting a wistful picture of a place that seems to have become misshapen, transformed by both time and perception into something beyond this world.

Throughout The Mansion, Naucke tempers his mixture of analog ambience and skittering glitches with a newfound acoustic sensibility. Opening track “The Vanishing” bolsters its New Age glimmer with drifting vocals from Natali Chami of TALsounds and Good Willsmith, while “The Clocks In The Mansion” rumbles and rasps as Naucke’s synths ricochet off Whitney Johnson’s haunted viola lines. Even when he’s operating sans guests, Naucke rarely lets himself settle into too comfortable a mode, veering between Laraaji-esque walls of luminescent sound (“A Mirror In The Mansion”) and morbid passages of fractured field recordings (“No Ceiling In The Mansion”), comfortably fitting each piece into his own internalized world. His most mesmerizing moments emerge when he seeks out pure bliss, as on the psychedelic standout “Youth Organ,” which pulses with a nostalgic sense of wonder; you can practically see Naucke twiddling with the knobs of his synthesizer with all the wide-eyed joy of a kid rifling through a toy box for the first time.

Some of The Mansion’s portraits may be a little too specific for us to truly comprehend (“Sisters” feels a bit like an odd-one-out with its slithery faux-drumline and bizarrely sinister tone), but whatever Naucke’s upbringing may have actually been like, his latest is far more concerned with the distortion of that place into a lush, shifting palace of imagination. The pieces throughout The Mansion flitter between thoughts with a pleasant aplomb, settling for a moment before phasing into something else, evolving and mutating until they have almost nothing to do with where they began. Naucke’s strains of thought are too intense and diffuse to make for purely ambient music, but as an object of focus, it offers a number of hallways for us to wander down, its fantastical architecture bearing an unsettling undercurrent of detachment from reality. It’s a nice place to visit, even if it never really existed.

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