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Roots In Heaven
Petites Madeleines + Sang des Betes/Affaires des Rats EP Bob Cluness , July 11th, 2017 09:42

Can you feel it? The collective build-up of anxiety and hysteria as our sense of collective reality begins to fray and the systems of governance and order break down irrevocably? You’re not the only one. We all seem to be living out a collective downer at this moment; even the press releases that I receive for new records often have quotes from the artists stating their increasing despair at unfolding events, be they political, social, or economic. Even as we all try to fight back and stop the prevailing archons of fascism and oppression, you get the sense that it’s only delaying the inevitable, that there is a massive fall coming on the horizon.

In the past, civilisation has thought and conceptualised the end times through biblical or other religious texts and prophecies. These days this apocalyptic tendency take many forms in contemporary culture, be it the climate disaster sci-fi of JG Ballard, Nevil Chute and Jeff VanderMeer, games such as Fallout or the S.T.A.L.K.E.R trilogy, TV series such as Survivors and The Walking Dead, the reams of 'ruin porn' photojournalism from places Detroit and the ghosts towns of China, or a myriad of Hollywood movies such as 2012, The Road, or Knowing – all show the world and humanity in various states of destruction for our entertainment.

In her experimental meditation on apocalyptic art and music, Drone and Apocalypse: An Exhibit Catalog for the End of the World, Joanne Demers points out that there is a certain cynicism at play in these representations of the apocalypse. We want the world to be a better place but rather than trying to enact real change we take a vicarious thrill in reading and watching these representations. Instead of an all-encompassing bang, we instead indulge in a 'pathological fantasy' of experiencing the end of the world and everyone around us while we are somehow valuable enough to survive and carry on. This, states Demers, fails to show that apocalypse as the demise of humanity is an absolute end, an unknown that we cannot conceptualise despite continuously trying to write a humanistic epilogue after our own extinction. There will be no writings, no utterances, no thoughts from the last person. Instead insists Demers, we should look to the emptiness and unreadability of experimental drone music, which she describes as “the Music of Death”. Citing electronic musicians such as Boards of Canada, Celer, William Basinski, Éliane Radigue, Thomas Köner and Leyland Kirby, these artists create music that shows the slow fade-out of humanity, the slow decay of civilisation. It is the soundtrack to the silencing of humanity that has long since passed into the continuation of being, and of the resurgence of the world-in-itself, still hurtling through the cosmos free of mankind. “Drone music,” Demers exalts, “is a music for when the markers of time such as clocks, metronomes, alarms have stopped”.

The idea of a music devoid of the registers and the trappings of the culture of civilisation is the perfect was to describe Sang des Betes/Affaires des Rats and Petites Madeleines, the monolith-and-a-half of sparse yet crushing drone music from electronic artist Roots of Heaven on the Zehnin label. With the de rigueur set-up of a mask-covered face with inscrutable biographical information (no descriptions other than he is a “label owner, resident DJ at cutting-edge clubs, and accomplished solo artist behind a number of conceptually unique full-length albums”), you could argue that Roots of Heaven is playing that canny game of trying to be obscure and inviting at the same time. But despite the teasing nature of the press release, there is a huge groundswell of intensity and power in these longform drone pieces, electronic meditations seemingly devoid of any human interaction, events, cadence, or structure. It is an orchestration of dead cities and abandoned infrastructure, of a daring to imagine a post-world of pure duration.

The prelude to Petites Madeleines is a two-track EP of longform drones complete with compressed tension, repetition, and anxiety, an introduction to world when the collective idea of humanity has been utterly snuffed out. 'Sang des Betes' is a 15-minute rumination of burning intensity. Using the incessant hum of a sub-level drone as its base, there is continuing build-up of unease as acrid and stringing tone harmonics strafe and collapse in a sea of howls. You can feel the shimmer of heat as your mind conjures nihilistic images of continental firestorms and scorched, irradiated landscapes as 'Sang des Betes' drives an unflinching intent in its ability to create an apocalypse of the mind. The second track 'Affaires des Rats', is the closest you’ll find in these releases to some kind of empirical order, a last vestige of civilisation holding out in some underground lair somewhere. An ailing heartbeat pumps metronome-like over a murky void of hiss and scratching white noise as drones sound out like foghorns across the empty hinterlands for any signs of life. Like in JG Ballard’s Memories of the Space Age, you can feel the machines of time and space shutting down for all concerned. Eventually the heartbeat falters and dies as the drones collapse in on themselves and fade to nothing.

Once the wiping away of mankind has been established with the EP, Petites Madeleines attempts to articulate what comes afterwards. A single, sprawling track at nearly 56 minutes in length, Petites Madeleines starts with an all-pervading sense of empty darkness. A flat, sludging beat and a throbbing drone is accompanied by eerie tones and sounds that seem to spiral downwards forever into the chasms below. Not that the composition is quiet or meek; there are icy blasts of tone noise, a wind of electronic screams that pummel the ears and the cranium. The soundscape portrayed is one of grand swathes of black swirling entropy and faded stillborn dreams of pasts long lost.

But about a third of the way through, there is a small but perceptive change in Petites Madeleines' repetitive nature, as it begins to describe its own creation myth. There is an increase in energy in the underlying drone as it starts to oscillate and come to life. The menacing tones that seemed to herald death and the void start flickering and rippling with light as high frequency tones interact and develop more complex structures. It’s not until halfway into the composition that we hear the beginnings of new life as a distinct rhythm bubbles and rises out of the electronic primordial soup. Alongside the various drones and blaring stentorian blasts, there is the continuation of life, life that is now free of human interaction and interference.

Like many longform drone/ambient pieces, the scale of the composition in Petites Madeleines is a daunting first listen, especially to those more accustomed to having music increasingly regimented and designed along discrete levels of processing and execution; we simply don’t have the time and patience for something that forces us to sit down and listen. Which is a bit of a shame, because the inhuman textures and moods articulated on this album bear repeated listens. There is a beauty to Petites Madeleines and the accompany EP that is cold and inhuman, but it is nonetheless a beauty all of its own. It invites you to dip into its endless seas and take on the role of the happy nihilist, one who understands that the indifferent nature of the cosmos to the end of the world doesn’t mean that it will be the end of other lives or objects.