HRZL – “Exoteric” (Diffuse Reality Records) [August 8, 2021]

Beautifully crafted and buoyant with sonic wonder, this synthesizer-heavy release from HRZL captures an enthusiasm for the often overlooked fundamentals of sound design, capturing a glimpse of forms exotic and previously unseen like some research mission into a deep trench.

The first impression is of sonaric bleeps probing the irregular terrain of some deepsea trench teeming with chemosynthetic life, communicating with impulses of unseen light. Predator and prey respond on the different pitches of synth squeals, whole untranslatable languages stripped down to the most basic impulses of fear and longing, traveling through untold leagues of dark and lethal brine to reach their target.

Early on it’s easy to tell that meticulous attention was paid on the hardware level to parts of sound design, like the particular shape of the envelope of each note, that are often ignored or managed post-hoc. Instead of the ordinary assault of 100% sustain that results in overwhelming bursts of individual sound, each note is like a sculpture in miniature, taking shape, morphing, and dissipating with highly individual precision. This kind of delicate shaping is reminiscent perhaps of Laurie Spiegel when she recorded the Expanding Universe and other works at Bell Labs; an attempt to create sonic structures that are differentiated by material, edge, and density, not just pitch.

The gates controlling the rises and tapers of each note are managed with an organic precision, like a reef of polyps coordinated in some massive network opening and closing in great geometric maps in response to some commonly sensed predator or incoming tide of nourishing detritus. There are even small glittering washes of different melodic patterns in the background that fill out this mise en scene. The leitmotif of the prey, capturing an entire trophic relationship on tape. The tracks often begin with a highly organic or analog sound and shift into a harmonic that reveals its fundamentally synthetic nature, manmade transistor music breaking into this naive world of instinct and chemical communication. It’s like an attempt by a research subaquatic autonomous robot to study migration patterns by emitting synthesized calls to trick some species into mistaking it for one of their own. Even the lower-end drums and snares sound as though they are being played under a thin membrane of water, the body of the sound shaped and reflected by some meniscus with enough density to dilate or reformat the sound for optimal propagation though liquid.

The tone of the release is at first almost lachrymose, but evolves into a palate that sounds more like mystery: a being of some complex but definitely non-humanoid intellect contemplating a world built by alien beings with interests perhaps orthogonal to its own. It coalesces into something like hacked-apart jazz, then separated again into perplexing but hypnotizing images of the ineffable natural world. Towards the end, in tracks like “Two Countours,” exploratory slow drum patterning is slowly illuminated by acid, otherwise buzzing and locomoting away from danger on some prehistoric flagella into the relative safety of more charted, familiar musical archetypes; but remaining ultimately hidden and unknowable.

-Winston Mann

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