In the ancient esoteric philosophy of Gnosticism, the "Aeons" were both measures of time and spiritual beings. They emanated from the transcendent divine world and made their way down to our own world, where they could be either terrifying lords of darkness and oppression, or redeeming beings of light. "Vir Unis," in a brilliant stroke of creativity, unites the Gnostic myths with the images and sound-impressions from quantum physics (as seen in his track titles) to give us AEONIAN GLOW
, a masterful new ambient album.
Though "Vir Unis" has been working with Steve Roach, and Roach along with his team of sound-artists add their expertise to this album, the sound here is not at all Roach-like. And though "Unis" uses the familiar language of drones, loops, vast reverberations, and fractal ambient textures, this is very much his own unmistakable style. He builds great complex structures of sound here, which move slowly in sustained, ponderous orbits, without any of the insistent synth-percussion rhythms such as the ones he provided for his collaboration with Steve Roach on BODY ELECTRIC. The sound has a grandeur to it, as if it were in a cathedral- but this is not a pretty, comforting stained-glass cathedral. It is a dark-glowing nebula in warped space, which you enter in trepidation and awe.
This is definitely "dark ambient," complete with dissonant and microtonal harmonies (at least most of the way). Listen closely to the densely stacked layers of sound and you will hear not only resounding synthesizer tone-clusters, but fragments of radio voices, soft eerie whistles, and sometimes a watery trickling and gurgling - much like Robert Rich's "glurp" sent into outer space. But this is more than the usual Gothic "dark ambient," though there are passages in GLOW that are truly scary. "Unis" moves between a sense of wonder, striving for light and tonality, and a sense of mystery and terror. Rarely has ambient music conveyed such power and depth.
Track 4, "Particle Path," evokes the subatomic world in an almost whimsical interlude of twinkling electronic notes. But this moment of lightness leads into track 5, "A Night of Passage," the centerpiece of the album, a 12 1/2 -minute voyage which is one of the most intense pieces of electronic music I've ever heard. This begins with the sound of synthesized bells, as if they signified the twilight leading to the longest night of the year at the winter solstice. As the piece progresses, the sound-texture builds to an immense size, microcosm united with macrocosm, girded together with metallic drones and roaring industrial thunder. And over all of this, at the climax of the piece, is a kind of organ-sounding, melancholy anthem, rapt in contemplation of the abyss. This is not for the faint-hearted! Listen at your own risk - this may induce mystical experience!
Two more tracks after that continue the vertiginous space voyage, and then the album comes to an end in a peculiar surprise, as it suddenly surfaces back not only into clear musical melody, but into recognizable sounds such as sustained guitar-like notes (synthesized) and delicate, melancholy traceries of almost harpsichord-like synthesizer lines. Like Roach, "Unis" chooses to end an album with a piece that does not leave the listener in the ultraviolet darkness, but returns to the outside world of ordinary light. Yet this last piece, titled "Letting Go of this Radiant Hive," offers no easy reassurance. It is poignant and sad, leaving us with a sense of distance and regret, and a paradoxical yearning to return to the perilous but enthralling dark spaces.