Gajek Restless Shapes

[Monkeytown; 2014]

Styles: modern minimalism, bouba/kiki aesthetics, sound sculpture
Others: Sculpture, Oval, Len Lye, Steve Reich

Gajek’s perplexing music is rooted in contemporary electronic production, but in a purposefully unnatural way. The stilted, odd rhythms of Restless Shapes, which comprise 21 songs condensed down to three linked suites, aren’t good for dancing, as they fail to ever settle into a defined groove. They always end in a reliable place, content to retreat back to square one no matter how much progress is made, but any other obvious downbeats and other signaling elements are obscured by complex progressive rhythmic structures and flippant sequencing. Guided by an exterior visual schematic, the pieces pit classical minimalist ideas against unique rhythmic forms but struggle to make sense as a solitary work.

“Curved Engines” starts out suddenly with a sloppy, stuttering cluster of kick drums. This errant little feature is immediately repeated. Gajek’s piano enters the fray, but it never progresses, so much as it just… worries. His clustered melodies have a begrudging stiffness to them. They are erratic and stubborn, constantly tripping over themselves. The song’s polyrhythms stack up and clutter the frame, as further layers congeal into a quivering mass. The rubbery cello scrapes at the beginning of “Moving Glasses” melt into a warm haze, a backdrop for Gajek’s trickling cymbals, which guide a series of fairly homogenous atmospheres and lateral movements, broken up only by a brief errant diversion into sub-bass ragga. The latter is a blessed break from status quo, because the former is the bulk of the record.

“Moving Glasses” is the most distinct of the three suites, a baroque, organ-heavy composition that benefits from a choir of eerie voices shaking the song from complacency with quivering howls. Even then, its 14-minute running time is excessive; the “Zebra”-esque opening doesn’t go very far with the idea. At the song’s peak, a dexterous arrangement obscures an unremarkable chord progression. Much of the musical content, once you get past the impenetrable time signatures, is fairly milquetoast.

Gajek is a visual artist in a master’s program for visual art, and much if not all of the record is driven by a visual leitmotif, animations of sleek black and white sculptures that pivot, swing, and drip, binary vehicles of expression that add a strict visual contour to Gajek’s music. His loops begin and end in a strictly binary fashion: edits between distinct samples are clearly marked, and each time it feels like someone’s hitting the reset button. This patterns a kind of creation very disinterested in the linear part of sound, the underlying idea of which has been explored but rarely this literally.

Sounds correspond directly to the motions of these cartoons in a precise demonstration of bouba/kiki sound symbolism. Watching the video, you can trace out the language of the music in its visual signals — “Restless Water Shapes” translates as a creaking oblong sculpture, the metronomic click of a pendulum, a drone of synchronized rowers, shapeshifting hieroglyphics, and beckoning crab claws. But without the visuals, the ideaesthetic aspect is lost, and the music that remains feels vestigial, a routine in search of meaning.

Links: Gajek - Monkeytown

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