Writers have been creating worlds for centuries. J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King, H.P Lovecraft, they all shaped worlds and mythologies and civilisations out of words. Few musicians, however, have created new worlds out of their music. Kraftwerk's albums and aesthetics form a unique world of Pop Art, industrialism, rhythms and electricity. But it's a world rooted in reality, in the hardness and definition of this dimension. In 1972, Tangerine Dream released Zeit (Ohr), a record that sounds like a panorama of an alien planet. Before such bands, the psychedelic rock of the 1960s explored the outer realms of inner space. But they were still anchored by the sex-drive and folk stories of Little Richard and Howlin' Wolf. It was when the soul met technology, when the human search for transcendence met electricity, that new worlds came into view. Then we got Walt Whitman's "Body Electric"the perfect mix of reality and otherworldliness.
Hey Exit's Arm's Reach (Else 3) is the sound of such a world coming into shape. No percussion, no punch, just the gradual, glacial movement of the riffs and sounds, the rumble of tectonic plates pushing mountains out of the ground and the rush of the wind whipping them into shape. Brendan Landis, the principal creative behind Hey Exit's vast output, used just guitars, contact microphones and vocals to create his soundscapes. Norihiro Kikuta joined him on six tracks, his clean, his shimmering guitar popping like a geyser on "Breath," and howling beneath Landis' strata on "Thistle." On "Chasms," Landis' baritone guitar opens with low, echoing notes. It traces its path over a heartbeat-sound, repeating a few, slow notes over the constant pulse below it. Kikuta's higher notes swell out of the murk and then plectrum-scrapes cut through like hissing radio static. The high notes reach up, up to the cloudy, dark sky that hangs over this new world. And that heartbeat pumps through it like a creature in the world's belly, growing more claustrophobic as the track crawls onwards, as if, even while the world above it stretches outwards, its place in the planet's heart-chamber grows smaller, tighter.
"Chasms" encapsulates the vision of Arm's Reach (Else 3). Without the bedrock of a rhythm section, the sounds are free to stretch and shift throughout its 10 minutes. Kikuta's high notes and Landis' grinding riffs and effects come together, but never form a solid mass. Instead they melt into each other, morphing into new shapes. The hiss of the pick-scrapes drags itself over the heartbeat, scarring the small rhythm that returns in "Glacial." That pulse opens the track, a tunnel deeper into the world that's been growing in depth throughout its runtime -from the opening harshness of "Scavenge," through "Rivers," and onto this monstrous 15 minute track. Landis' high notes notes aren't like Kikuta's. They skate over the soundscape, sliding across its terrain in sweeping movements. Movement is not provided by rhythms and harmonic changes. It's in the blending of the sounds, in each unique shape they provide. On "Glacial," that unique movement reaches new depths, going right down to the bone marrow of this unique record.
Arm's Reach (Else 3) is a record of extreme depth. Lovecraft and King created whole mythologies for their worlds, histories and stories that bring them to life. But there are no stories on this record. Instead Landis and Kikuta have plumbed modern technology's potential to find the ancient sounds of geography. This is the sound of landscapes being shaped, of a place that is still becoming a place, that's not even at home in itself. Hip-hop and electronic music have been using technology to explore the postmodern times that surround us. Hey Exit have used it to create a new time, a vital mixture of the past and the present, which looks, always, to tomorrow. Then, maybe, the relation between the soul and technology won't be defined by the misapprehension that there is an unbridgeable gap between them, but that they can instead be used to make a new world.
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