LST Th Duo

[Another Dark Age; 2015]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: kosmiche, field recordings, tape music
Others: Bum Creek, Quicksails, ahnnu, Altered State Tapes

In Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, two characters submit their fate to a guide who promises them safe passage as they try and locate The Room, a place said to fulfill the innermost desires of anyone who steps inside. In order to reach this place, the trio must cross a government-controlled dystopia, where they avoid military guards, navigate an abandoned railway track, and quarrel with their guide as he instinctively feels his way to The Room instead of using an identifiable path. Stalker, the name of Tarkovsky’s guide, is puzzled by the agenda of his companions, which include a writer who seeks to find inspiration and a scientist who wishes to unveil the truth behind The Room while secretly wanting to destroy it.

Listening to Th Duo brought back memories of Tarkovsky’s film in a way that transformed my listening experience entirely. I thought about the plot, the screenplay, and the intentions of each character, from the moment I first heard the submerged clunking of “Lego Swept Terrains” to the distant hints of wildlife on the closing track. It’s been impossible to shake these associations since, and that’s mostly due to the fragmented structure of each recording and the discordant patterns that give them form and functionality — you need to feel your way around Th Duo, because any identifiable path is eroded by the nature of its configuration.

Scattered about the intricate suite of kosmiche sequences and drones, there is a seemingly discarded collection of bleak and disconnected field recordings. These ingredients contrast each other while complementing the memories I had of this otherwise unrelated film. The high-frequency synths work as a multi-colored graffiti on the drab underbelly of metallic samples, mirroring the aspirations of the writer and the scientist against the incessant deadpan of their Stalker.

Tarquin Manek, the Australian artist behind LST, encourages his audience to engage with his work on their own terms, which should be “based only on subjective associations and formal parallels.” As a visual artist, he creates an immediate space within his paintings through which the audience project their own response, and on Th Duo, the same principles seem to apply. The fact that I’m associating this album with a Russian sci-fi film from the late 70s is a consequence of my own projection onto the music: that I’m attempting to make comparisons between Stalker, as a guide approaching his environment through instinct, and Manek, who conjures aesthetically comparable imagery through his music, remains little more than a “formal parallel.” This is bolstered by the clues that Manek divulges throughout — a robotic voice on “Lewd Strewth Truth” or an elastic pulse on “Lemon Suck Teeth” — but by moving on to the next sequence, it feels as though a code has been cracked and that, as a listener, you are headed in the right direction. It’s a form of navigation by other means.

Tarkosky has his characters meet in a rundown bar on the outskirts of a city, a place that’s austere and impoverished and that feeds the Western imagination as to what Communism might have looked like from the inside. “Lego Swept Terrain” starts with some ambient recordings that could have come directly from that scene — it’s a beautifully desolate introduction that flows delicately into the ringing of bells and the first hint of synthesizers. It’s a track that’s dependent on minor adjustments made to carefully-assembled loops, but one that gives a feeling of progress, as though one is moving on to the next stage, whatever that might be.

Manek creates a space that inspires exploration, but sometimes the path can feel as disjointed and anonymous as Stalker’s. That might be good for my analogy, but it’s not always great from a musical point of view. The music occasionally seems aimless and without focus (“Last Sexual Topic”), which is a little trying, but it does remain consistent with the album’s aesthetic. Frustration can be key to establishing a build-up of metallic cacophony or a harmonious climax, but in some instances, the ideas just seem to fade away into emptiness. This happens right before the most profound track on the album (“Looping Strengthening Tracing”), which plays out like a melodic distress call of dusty tape configurations, mobile phone recordings, and low-pitched drones — it’s a profound arrangement and a testament to Manek’s capability as a sound artist.

Although it’s easy to cast memories or associations onto instrumental music comprised of different textures and varying speeds, it’s rare that you are able to have the experience altered by such a persistent and engulfing narrative, regardless of whether that’s been imposed or whether it’s imaginary. With Th Duo, Manek makes this possible by offsetting the wild and uncontrollable synths with echo, distortion, and brief moments for contemplation. As the momentum shifts and his compositions contract, there is a sense of satisfaction in reaching the album’s uncompromised conclusion, which is buried in exactly the same space where it began.

Links: LST - Another Dark Age

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