Mathias Grassow – Dämmerung (Gterma, 2012)

Mathias Grassow, who’s been producing dreamy and psychoactive synthesizer drones for what seems like forever, released a new album on the gterma label. Well, he released many, but forgive me, I like my blogging like my drone music – very steady, very slow. Calling Dämmerung (2012) a slow album, however, would be wrong.

There’s the usual glacial, long-form movements that characterize Grassow’s and similar artists’ oeuvre, but the key to the album is found in the relentless tempo of the synthesizer tones. The liner notes talk about the course of the Sun in the sky, and the short but fiery summer evenings of the Northern latitudes. Much like the celestial path of the Sun, the album moves at the same time majestically slow and inconceivably fast. And ever so steady.

Conceptually, Dämmerung fits the label’s and the artist’s shamanism-inspired tradition. Humanity has been making sacral music in the form of sustained, resonating sine waves for probably as long as they’ve been worshipping the Sun. Whether the latter directly inspired this school of spiritual music or not is what you’d call an Unknowable, but the similarities between nature’s cyclical repetition and the aesthetics of droning are striking – and always inspiring. Perhaps it’s the Sun that most closely embodies these ideas of nature’s death and rebirth as it grows and disappears every season and every day. In the tradition of such spiritual music, Dämmerung nurtures introspective thoughts by turning our attention to the world around us. It takes form as one hour-long snapshot of the Sun’s annual cycle throughout our skies: a summer evening sunset, a burning, dramatic sky painted in sound.

Fading Light has a heavy, restless timbre, and captures the start of the ephemeral hours: the stage is grand and seemingly unmoving, the colours are warm, and the air simmers and churns from the final rays of energy that pierce through the atmosphere at low angles. Crickets, a recurring motif in Grassow’s work, join us for a while, but from A Bed of Clouds on, all attention moves away from the rustic elements of a sunset and onto something more… up there. Like the setting Sun, there are no cut-off points, and every track is a continuous flow from twilight into darkness. Exception: there is one moment, two thirds into Nightfall, where the mood suddenly shifts. The timbre of the synths calms down, and strangely inhuman, alto chants bleed through the mix, as if from beyond a now quickly darkening horizon. Entering the Between: as the night encroaches, the texture grows denser; the prominent synthesizer tones become more crystalline, and are pushed to higher registers by several harmonic voices. On the final stretches of the album, a clear human voice finally breaks through. A repeated cry that echoes through the air and both praises and laments the now-gone light.

An excellent soundtrack to these waning summer days (those who walk upside down can consider getting an early Christmas gift). Comes in crystal case packaging. A 12-page booklet tracks the whole sunset portrayed on the cover. Available, among others, on Gterma and el culto.