Petar Dundov – “Cosmic Theater” (Axis Records) [December 27, 2021]

Axis Label and Petar Dundov team up to provide a techno futurist sci-fi release that is in line with Dundov’s love of massive analog synths and Axis Records’ ongoing love affair with the cinematic themes and aesthetics of outer space exploration. 

Amid a flurry of social media posts about aliens descending near planet earth and blurry photos of spacecraft, Axis is amazingly ‘on brand’ with their aesthetic. Similarly, Petar Dundov has also risen to their aesthetic cues in fine style. With fatter synths than the star Stephenson 2-18, Dundov’s minimally dense composition is left wide open for dynamic processing to really emphasize these synths to be as huge and godlike on a sound system as possible. While the always questioning synths in the top end leave your mind to drift without resolution hypnotically off into the stars. 

The EP is sort of cordoned off into little scenes and not tracks, alluding to the cinematic nature and passions that Axis and its owner, Jeff Mills, has explored over the last 30 or so years. From Mills’ work inspired by silent films featuring Buster Keaton, his “Metropolis” album, to full live performances with “2001 a Space Odyssey” and Jules Verne’s “Woman in the Moon.” Will we see an accompanying cinematic short to this release? Time may tell, but what Dundov offers in this account is that the heavens themselves are the characters in this “Cosmic Theater,” and the astrophysical phenomenon described by hypothetical scientific research is the drama.

First Scene, “Binary Equivalence” sets the stage with scientists proposing an unlimited source of energy by turning gravity into electricity. If we’re to ignore the narrative qualities of the story or the plotline proposed by Petar Dundov what we’re left with is music, the dancer, and a sound system. The music stands on its own rather well, and the kid in the back blissed out with stars in their eyes will most likely understand there’s this deep journey and its effective musical message to take your mind to new places. It’s possible, that when introduced to this music and its fat analog, body shaking bass, that kid will eventually, randomly, come across the liner notes of this release and have their mind blown once more.

Second Scene, “Charon’s Arc” sees our scientific team putting their recent discovery of gravitational wave energy to the test of Pluto and its moon, Charon. Again, we’ll take away from the “libretto” as it were, and just ask if the track is effective at telling the story. It does. Dundov has a chill and scientific approach to the orchestration of these tracks. There’s no fight, no aggressive nature. Whereas some producers have their drama within the dynamics and tension, Petar Dundov provides a curious forward-facing arpeggiated synth while the power of the tumbling kick, bass, and hat propel the track systematically forward.  

Third scene, “Magnetar” proposes that the storied research team has now encountered beings made entirely of energy whose life as they know it is about to end. The elements in the music are the funkiest and danceable in the release featuring an unavoidable groove. Should we feel guilty about wanting to get down to their inter-dimensional world’s collapse? To be fair, it’s pretty wicked to dance to with its bandy bassline and conga hits with whipping reso bass flying off into the stars.

Fourth Scene, “Beyond Planck” has our researchers pondering whom they could save from their world’s demise. We’re back to exploring the cosmos with our unnamed energy being entities trying to find a solution to save their world by attempting to reengineer the laws of all known physics. Musically, much like the scientific concept of breaking apart reality at the Planck Scale, the track comes across like brain food. Is the track shattered, or is our mind shattered like the physics at question here? 

Putting down this release, it seems like it’s one further chapter in an epic novel. One can look at the history of techno with Detroit Techno’s love for Parliament Funkadelic’s afro futuristic sci-fi funk, and a future filled with hope outside the decay of 80s Detroit. Sci-fi and futurism are inexorably linked to the Motor City, it seems by way of hope. This release is a long-range echo of those ideas. What makes this release and a lot of what you want to say ‘Millsian’ techno aesthetic going around, is that it is one more vein in a series of competing ideas in techno at the moment. Arguably it’s the most original long-running idea in techno to date, with few others really pushing anything remotely close to a sci-fi short story version of a Wagnerian or Stravinsky epic. The Axis drive to create something unique and different may have them looking to push their borders beyond typical techno. Petar Dundov and Axis have put down another set of pages in the story of Axis paving their own path a little farther away from techno and more towards the stars each time.

-Sean Ocean

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