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Siavash Amini & Eugene Thacker
Songs For Sad Poets Matthew Horton , September 27th, 2022 08:28

When an experimental Iranian composer and an American nihilist philosopher team up to write wordless paeans to a generation of outsider poets, things can get pretty gloomy, finds Matthew Horton

Iranian experimental composer Siavash Amini and American philosopher-poet Eugene Thacker had been quietly, unwittingly influencing one another for some time before Thacker reached out and set them on the path to this unsettling but absorbing meeting of minds.

The challenge for Amini, more than twenty albums into an adventurous career, was to make his own brand of music out of Thacker’s verses for the ‘cursed poets’ (or poètes maudits), a loose collective of 19th century French poets identified by Paul Verlaine, who included himself alongside Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Mallarmé and others.

Thacker had broadened his own remit, dedicating pieces to 12th century Chinese poet Zhu Shuzhen and Iran’s own Sadeq Hedayat alongside more classic examples of the ‘maudits’ like Gérard de Nerval, penning terse lines that draw upon “wraiths of smoke”, “dead stars of silence” and “hushed vespers of luminous dread” to create perfect fodder for Amini’s unnerving endeavours.

Here’s the twist though: the double album is instrumental. You can read along, but on record Thacker’s words have been reimagined as mood.

From stark poetry, Amini’s made stark, impressive music. It buzzes and drones, screeches and creeps, then lurches away to nothingness, almost entirely beatless but for a buried, propulsive throb on ‘A Quiet Glow (For Chūya Nakahara)’ that suggests a club in full flow next door – or the next-door universe at least. Each ‘song’ brims with it an eerie, sickly worry – whether it’s the encroaching metallic sawing of ‘Prisms of Sleep (For Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo)’ or the haunted music-box melody that’s nearly light relief on ‘Demented Skies (For Alejandra Pizarnik)’. Something’s coming to get us, but we don’t know what it is.

Shafts of light pierce the gloom, but only occasionally. There’s a synth tone on ‘A Quiet Glow’ that heads somewhere choral beyond the electronic crackle, and little chirrups and scratchy birdsong bring some bucolia to the white noise of ‘Burnt Black Eyes (For Sadeq Hedayat)’. It’s surely an auditory illusion when the joyous sound of steel drums seems to poke through the rain-spattered roar of ‘Smoldering Stars (For Giacomo Leopardi)’, because we’re not in a happy place.

Often these bleak soundscapes are reminiscent of the discordant scrapes and burbles the BBC Radiophonic Workshop would use as ‘incidental music’ for Doctor Who, particularly in the 1980s, smearing those jarring noises over the audio track to add menace and mystery to rubber monsters and cardboard vistas. Perhaps that’s what composers like Peter Howell and Roger Limb were up to, translating the words of poète maudit Terrance Dicks into glacial grandeur. Amini’s unforgiving pieces have a sci-fi feel themselves, forming exoplanets and vast expanses of unknowable space through cavernous acoustics and low, black-hole rumble. They’re either eternal or the end of everything – neither a cheery thought, admittedly.

Amini and Thacker plan to carry on together anyway. Back in January this year, Amini told tQ they’ll be flipping the formula for their next collaboration, actually using the human voice this time but warping it suitably so it can’t be anything as infra-dig as comprehensible. They’ll be running the full gamut “from granular synthesis to putting the singer in a bucket!” which all sounds like fun, but doubtless the pair will find a way to make it splendidly grim. They nail it here.