Esmark – Māra I / Māra II

by Freq | 2017-09-18T13:52:09+00:000000000930201709 13:52

Bureau B

Esmark - Ma̅ra ISound architect Nikolai von Sallwitz and experimental artist Alsen Rau have been collaborating on various projects for the last fifteen years or so and for this mysterious duo of albums, the ever-reliable Bureau B have been chosen to release them. This time around, the duo have chosen the name Esmark under which to trade for Māra I  and Māra II and Bureau B is a suitable home for these extraordinarily sparse paeans to another world.

Esmark is the name of a glacier at Spitsbergen, the island off Norway; a cold foreboding place, barely inhabited and most unlike anything the majority of people will experience in their lives — and that is a pretty good analogy for these albums. The duo’s set up is mainly analogue with modular synths getting a good workout, but drum computers and other devices are utilised, with a constantly changing chain of effects and filters to produce a subtly transforming soundscape using the barest of ingredients.

The first disc is the more rhythmic of the two and starts out with a sub-techno nod to simplicity and structure and is the most familiar thing we hear. It is almost as if the duo are preparing us for a strange journey by allowing us to assimilate gently, because as the track progresses, everything becomes more ungainly and messy. It makes it difficult to assess what to expect, really, and as the track ends with a shimmering finish like ice sparkling beneath our feet, vistas open up before us.

As the album proceeds, so things become looser and more hypnotic, the heartbeat rhythm of “Sirens” is gradually consumed by a Doppler effect drone hovering in and out of focus like an impending storm. The deafening phasing of “Skern A” hides a circling motif, rising and rising over eight minutes. It does bring to mind standing on an icy peninsular, watching the weather tracking as the distant hum of a meteorological station drones in the distance.

Esmark - Ma̅ra IIThe second disc somehow feels emptier; there are rhythms here too, but more subdued, as if this album houses the feelings one would have after a year in the frozen wilds.

The gentlest of dub rhythms merges with the sound of compressed air on “Ringen”; elsewhere, motors run in the background, random drills sound, ominous things vibrate and the sound of limitless tones are brooding and sparse. Glaciers move; that sad, slow crack of ice, the echoing sound of distant construction, the beat of a generator and distorted air systems.

The tracks are bare but transportative. “Pluvialis Apr” sounds like an old electric typewriter moving through its process, transmitting some strange message as helicopters hover overhead. In fact, the album’s abrupt ending after a disturbing Etant Donne-like drone matched with pregnant water plunges comes as a real surprise and shakes the listener from their reverie.

It is an astonishing listen. You can set aside an hour and a half and allow the otherworldly atmosphere to consume and transport you, be it to Spitsbergen or to the outer reaches of Saturn; somewhere cold, desolate, with the odd brush of humanity. It is an impressive feat from the two musicians involved and well worth investigation.

-Mr Olivetti-

Source URL: http://freq.org.uk/reviews/esmark-mara-i-mara-ii/