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Compound Eye
Journey From Anywhere Jonathan Patrick , November 26th, 2013 08:01

Compound Eye is the collaboration of Drew McDowall (Coil, Psychic TV) and Tres Warren (Psychic Ills), a duo whose recording process is driven by a mutual fascination with sound. Self described as a "recording project," the duo's second effort, Journey From Anywhere, is not so much an album as an exploration of this shared fascination – a work wherein components were added and engineered during an extemporised gestation period lasting several years. In this way, Journey From Anywhere is a work of process music; both in the way it was made, and in the way that it unfolds, moves, and develops. It has no definitive thematic makeup; rather, hues are picked up, used, and then dropped, with a consistent emphasis on trajectory over resolution. Therein lies the thrill of this music. It's uncommonly tantalising precisely in the way that other, much poorer, music is frustrating: it refuses to approach form, remaining amorphously challenging throughout.

Categorically, Journey From Anywhere is an improvisational drone record, unusually, but masterfully, buoyed by a set of bracing synthscapes. While the drone sections traverse a gambit between Tony Conrad minimalism and sound-designs not dissimilar to the Eraserhead OST, the latter arrangements often resemble the material Laurie Spiegel was cooking up at Bell Laboratories in the 70s: pixilated, unfussy compositions, at times, both disorienting and enchanting. Comparatively short, these respites are brilliantly sequenced to provide relief in what is an otherwise persistently unforgiving palette.

'Archaic Atmosphere' represents the first of Journey From Anywhere's long-playing drone passages; it's also the most expressionistic–an oscillating, insect-like hum that sounds like a legion of digitised cicadas nearing harmonisation. The character of the frequencies here impart a sense of decay; everything appears to be slowing, yet the piece lurches on, adding and subtracting elements in a nuanced manner that leaves the track's perceived musical sameness undisturbed. Next cut, 'The Hydraulic Regime Vibrates from Within', sustains the former's menacing mood, beginning with a brooding percussion reminiscent of Vangelis' Heaven And Hell, and ending with a shrill power-line buzz.

'Journey Into Anywhere' is the most monochromatic, and difficult moment on Journey From Anywhere. Sonically and thematically, it's a return to the electrified hum on 'Archaic Atmosphere', only down-pitched to sound remarkably like a synthesised bagpipe. It's noticeably more immediate than the rest of the LP, making it considerably less conducive to meditative escape. Whereas most of Journey From Anywhere is marked by a removed, texture-driven ambiance – lending itself to the functional parameters of 'furniture music' – 'Journey to Nowhere' is pressing, guiding the listener through a trying drone field that's all but impenetrable.

Like practiced hands often do, Warren and McDowall save their best for last. 'Cosmic Exhaust: The Selector' and 'The Outer Sphere' see the duo at their most imaginative. 'Cosmic Exhaust' is a digital minefield of misfiring sinewave pitches and electrical interference. While difficult to plot, the contents include both Subotnick-like synth agitations and spectral IDM haunts, not unlike those on Aphex's S.A.W.2. The results are erratic and prickly, but the lasting impression is transportive–an environment that is both celestial and aquatic.

Closer, 'The Outer Sphere', is a headphone masterstroke – all spacey vistas and arctic pacing – that comes off like Pole's dub techno re-imagined through Eno's Apollo. Amongst the track's pulsating swells and resonant ticks, and in virtue of odd panning effects, the listener's equilibrium is thrown for a loop. The sensation is like having one's eardrums subjected to a vacuum. It's aurally unnerving, but arresting all the same.

On their second outing, Compound Eye break no new ground, but the excellence of the results show that they don't need to. In its artful synthesis of the visceral and the numinous, Journey From Anywhere offers a welcome alternative to the glossy, conceptualised aesthetic so currently the vogue in electronic music. In the end, what separates Journey From Anywhere from the vast landfill of self-conscious "experimental music" is the subtle virtuosity with which its exercises are executed.