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Fleeting Future Bernie Brooks , June 27th, 2022 08:39

Akusmi crafts an often-jubilant, forward-thinking sound from a vocabulary of past futures, says Bernie Brooks

When the American architect, designer, and eccentric R. Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller died in 1983, he had the somewhat enigmatic phrase "CALL ME TRIMTAB" cut into his grave marker. In fact, to make doubly sure this self-appointed sobriquet wouldn't be missed, there are two stones at his grave site emblazoned with the motto. It’s on the traditional tombstone he shares with his wife, and on a more pronounced hunk of granite above it, which reads simply:


Taken at face value, this might seem a little goofy – to some, inscrutable – but for Fuller, it was no joke. Or not entirely a joke, anyway. The metaphor of the trim tab was a powerful one. For those unfamiliar, a trim tab is a very small part of a boat, ship, airplane, or whatever that, using the forces around it, can drastically affect how said boat or ship or plane moves. On a massive ship, the wee trim tab helps the rudder change course. On a pleasure boat, the trim tab makes the ride smoother for everyone. You see where Bucky was going with this?

For me, Fuller is one of those characters who embodied the utopian potential of industrialization. This idea that, using new technologies and means of production, a societally focused individual could make life better across the board, for everyone. Of course, folks like Bucky ultimately failed or were failed. The rapaciousness of capitalism stepped in. Still, for me, Fuller is a vessel of potential. The sort of person through whom you can envision an alternate, better present we could have had. Yeah, as an exercise it’s painfully hauntological, but it isn’t without its merits. The London-based composer Pascal Bideau seems to understand this implicitly. On Fleeting Future, his debut as Akusmi and the inaugural release of Adam Heron’s Tonal Union label, Bideau fluidly translates this feeling of utopian and creative potentialities – past, present, and future.

Though rooted in gamelan and its slendro scale, Bideau’s ensemble of woodwind, brass, synth, and percussion often creates music more evocative of Leonard Bernstein than Bali. Which, I should underline, isn’t a bad thing. As an album, Fleeting Future bustles in a distinctly mid-century modern way. Deeply synaesthetic, the album conjures visions of imaginary Saul Bass title sequences, a series of alternate North By Northwests and Anatomy Of A Murders. It’s almost impossible not to picture the colourful dots of the Sigrid Calon artwork that adorns the album's Heron-designed sleeve bouncing in time to the music, ping-ponging against the bounding lines of the grid that contains them.

This kineticism is an ever-present feature of Fleeting Future, from the soaring and satisfyingly bittersweet title track to the madcap, Akira-inspired ‘Neo Tokyo’, its horns chattering frantically. At times, Bideau’s vibrating compositions threaten to overwhelm the listener, but he never pushes them quite that far. Instead, he’s inclined to make room at exactly the right moment, to drop out excess instrumentation, and give the listener a moment to breathe while a single horn takes the floor. Until, inevitably, it all pops off again. It’s a smart move. Though his pieces are clearly indebted to minimalism, they’re full to bursting with moving parts – whether you interpret those parts as pistons and cogs and gears, or as pedestrians and motorists clattering along, or as wiggling cells is up to you.

Fittingly, the album’s presser makes a big deal of scale, from micro to macro, and it’s easy to hear that in the music as layers upon layers of interlocking instrumentation rapidly build upon the simple, kernel-like phrases and rhythms that typically kick off the compositions. These kernels wield a subtle power, not unlike that aforementioned trim tab. In that sense, there’s often a feeling of previously unseen forces and systems revealing themselves, working together. Though I’ve mentioned it recently, I’m reminded once again of the famous 1977 Eames Office film, Powers Of Ten. In it, a camera zooms out, out, out from a picnicking couple in exponential increments of ten until eventually we hit 100 million light years out, then in, in, in to the subatomic. Its score by Elmer Bernstein is perfect, but blasphemous suggestion or not, there are at least a couple of tracks here that could sub in just as well.

Throughout this review I’ve been focused on the past, but although the album can inspire nostalgia, it’s anything but a nostalgia trip. Ultimately this is future music. Its idiosyncratic blending of ancient, recent, and contemporary styles and genres is nothing if not forward-thinking – and though it shares similarities with musics of the past, I’ve never heard anything quite like its strange vocabulary of past futures before. And its optimism is inescapable, which I think is kind of the point. Better futures ahead? Says Bideau in that same presser mentioned above:

“[The future] is constantly readjusting to new events. I feel we left a linear approach to the future to enter an arborescent one where all the data and information we have about what could happen is exponentially ever-growing. Following a branch might allow you to glimpse into what it may become, but the evolution of the whole picture might very well render the prediction totally obsolete, and even meaningless. In that sense, there is not one future but innumerable ones all cancelling each other.”

But the present, though – it’s all gone to shit, and Buckies are few and far between. Living in America as our future rapidly unravels is a daunting prospect, capable of germinating a sort of unnavigable, omnipresent sadness. In the face of that, both Bideau’s notion of an arborescent timeline and his often-jubilant tunes provide some small comfort. In this universe of infinite possibility, there have got to be at least a few decent futures out there, still uncancelled. Right?