Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe Kulthan

[Latency; 2017]

Styles: mysteries techno, allotheism
Others: Lichens, Ruth Benedict

I once watched a performance of Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe playing a houseplant. Yes, there was a big box of modules bristling with patch cables, and he was blending in shards of his own voice, as he is wont, but it was the plant — still yet not silent, as much a participant in the proceedings as Lowe — that really attracted my attention. Much in the same way Lowe draws his own voice through his tangled wilderness of modules and cables, the presence of the plant, speckled with electrodes, constitutes a gesture toward synthesis, a meshing, and an assemblage. He’s not the first such person to turn an alocasia into an alto or make a cantor of a cactus, but there is this feeling of approach toward Garsonian plantasia, a world where technology can lend a mouth to the formerly mute.

Kulthan is an old and alien divinity. All cultures that worshipped him/her/it/them recognized only otherness. An invasion performed by immaterial marauders, infecting and investing each captured civilization with a singular fixation. All attendants of Kulthan see a face scarred with seams, a visage seemingly patched together from the potsherds of older, obsolete gods. Luxating each star from the sky and chasing the Lares from their dinner tables, Kulthan unseats and undoes.

Even though that performance was a one-off, even though Lowe has probably not converted his local nursery into a burbling, vegetal chorus, this is still my prevailing image of him: the cybernetician, or, rather, the facilitator between old world organics and the sleek ontology of the transistor. And he is very much that figure. His fundamental methodology has remained relatively unchanged from the earliest formation of Lichens; he merges the oldest instrument with the newest, and what emerges is the ecstatic music of a new century. Longform drone and New Age compositions are filled with his plangent vocal articulations, but also complemented by light rhythms, sharp synth melodies, and an assortment of acoustic instruments. Luckily for Lowe, his basic approach can, and undoubtedly will continue to, offer him a wide, unexplored continent to stake his claim.

The deity of libration, Kulthan knows only repose and frenzy: the stoic and static of meditation or the rage and rend of mania. In some depictions, swinging an axe, a staff, a thyrsus, yet in others carpeted over in moss or smiling warmly as carrion-eaters find sustenance in Kulthan’s living flesh. Blind or bedaubed in countless eyes, flailing electric limbs or amputated and mournful, its image occupies all contraries and reconciles all difference. The mad king offers refuge to any who so seek in the dreaming court.

Kulthan is no exception, to either his formula or his results. Cut in two, his Latency release displays, as strongly as ever, Lowe’s particular rheology of sound. As always, the texture and timbre of his compositions remain the cornerstone, but the prominent rhythmic elements of each side give shape and weight, as opposed to the more diffuse, billowing sound that defined early Lichens material. Strict classification is always a dangerous proposition, but some might be urged to slot Kulthan into the dub or minimal techno worlds. At least techno-informed, though largely resisting locking into a single groove, both cuts maintain a free-flowing sensibility as particles joyously collide with and seamlessly elide into one another.

Modes of worship were as multiform as depictions. Oirat cultists would dance deliriously about a cauldron of boiling water and drop to embrace the earth in sleep when there was none left. In enclaves around the Peloponnese, rhyta filled with animal blood, honey, and sour wine would spill their guts on Kulthan’s crown. Parthians would electrify themselves using early batteries. One city of Andean followers populated their homes, markets, and legislatures with the dead while they lived silently in the tombs. A Gallic set would take martinet to the flesh and scourge themselves to shivering strips. In the Far East, devotees would dress themselves in robes impregnated with maggots. Those of a higher order would thread daily, in so precise a location, a needle through the abdomens of flies, so that still living they would form a squirming, futile chain about the worshipper’s neck. These days, adherents conduct inscrutable ceremonies via Skype, mimicking the telluric lines between centers of power with technological ones.

In fact, “Heart of Sogguth” is pure rhythm. Rubbery drums bounce and weave around each other as Lowe’s equally elastic vocal cut-ups inject themselves into the mix. It is abandon with a frame. There’s a drum circle insistency, anchored by the pulsing cosmic heart of the title — which comes from an episode of The Tomorrow People about a cult attempting to resurrect an ancient, evil divinity by way of a beating drum. And really, its stupor-inducing tumult is more suited to soundtrack some arcane, malign ritual than to transition between Shpongle and Juno Reactor at your local trance night.

Not surprisingly, Kulthanic cosmogeny is as convoluted as its worship. Kulthan is both the skull of the sky and the belly of the earth, the voice of the wind and the blood of the seas. It is each dreaming star and each detonating galaxy, but it also walks among us in many-muffled forms: as the fingers of forests, as the redoubts of basalt, as the wisdom of bears, as the electron skittering through wire, as the days themselves. The universe was not formed by Kulthan nor was it ever shaped by its countlessly pronged hand, rather it has come from outside to occupy and transform from within, a silent and subtle restructuring.

However, it’s the front that really shines on Kulthan, where each disparate element commingles and interlaces. Where the flip represents the ardor and thrash of ritual, “Magnamite” is its placidity and restraint. Minute percussive blips summoned from the modular synthesizer cut and scurry across the surface of a wide respiring drone. The rhythm moves too quickly to track with your feet, so you are left to follow it without moving, emphasizing its minor shifts and major ruptures. Lowe’s plaintive voice arcs over the horizon eoan and roric. It is in those moments, when his voice settles into the interstitial space of his already dense composition, that “Magnamite” strikes its grand balance.

One text to have been discovered, coated in wax and stowed in a cask of wine, was found in a ruined monastery near Shiraz. Titled “The Ambit of Air,” it reads primarily as a yogic manual, describing the circulation and flow of air throughout the body. There are a handful of illustrations depicting braces and curious contraptions designed to assist proper breathing. Of great interest is a passage imagining a human augmentation, a set of bellows in place of the lungs, that would perfect this action. Near the end of the text, it is made clear that these breathing exercises were intended for a ritual referred to as “The Kulthanic Lustration.” Speculation rages as no consensus has been found regarding the purpose or practice of this ceremony.

Kulthan is less than 30 minutes, but it limns a microcosm of the work Lowe has been engaged in over the past two decades, from the human-machine mathiness of 90 Day Men — which, like many similar groups did and do, plied its tight arrangements toward an illusion of falling apart — to the technological pure simulation of nature he completed with Ariel Kalma. It bridges and harmonizes contradictions, it makes non-exclusionary categories many might consider antagonistic. Kulthan, like many of Lowe’s past works and like many sure to come, joins the organic and the synthetic, makes grandeur from minimalism, and plumbs the bipolarity of ecstasy.

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