- Gently atmospheric Fourth World trips enhanced by an imaginative concept.
- Andrew Pekler's music abounds with rigorous concepts. Since his work as Sad Rockets in the mid-'90s, Pekler's albums have often been bound by a self-contained, thoroughly considered idea. On 2007's Cue, he explored the functional tradition of library music by writing "expository phrases," then producing music to his own brief. 2014's The Prepaid Piano began as an installation using a grand piano prepared with different mobile phones set to vibrate. Participants could call the numbers to determine which piano strings would play.
As a regular collaborator with Jan Jelinek, Pekler has also shared the German producer's interest in exotica music. One line of enquiry was 2016's Tristes Tropiques on Faitiche, an album of vivid biomes teeming with life and coloured with alien yet soothing synth wriggles, not unlike the original exotica of the '50s. Inspired by the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss' accounts of travel amongst native people in Brazil, Pekler's aim was to create "synthetic exotica, pseudo-ethnographic music and manipulated field recordings," and he did so to great effect.
Sounds From Phantom Islands finds Pekler returning to an old idea, musically at least. If you were a fan of Tristes Tropiques, you'll be pleased to find yourself tripping back into the fantastic ecosystems Pekler sculpts via what sounds like modular synthesis. There is, however, a new concept behind the record, born from a project Pekler created with Flavio Gortana and Stefanie Kiwi Menrath.
Phantom Islands – A Sonic Atlas is an interactive online map, which shows dozens of islands, recorded by early cartographers and explorers, that didn't exist, disappeared or couldn't be found. Each one of these mystery land masses has a unique story (and piece of music). Pepys Island, for example, was likely a misidentification of the Falkland Islands. Visitors to Taprobana, first described in writing in 290 AD, could expect to find "man-eating ants that guard mountains of gold."
The mood on record, however, feels different from what you hear navigating the map, even though the tracks are sourced from the sounds Pekler created for the project. When Hy Brasil appears on the interactive map the music has a spooky, mirage-like quality, but the corresponding track on the album melts around your ears with mellifluous ease. The melodic phrases feel more pronounced than anything on Tristes Tropiques, rising and falling in orchestrated swells over a bed of fidgeting insect life.
But Sounds From Phantom Islands works so well because its core pieces are easy to listen to. From the jaunty daydream of "Approximate Bermaja" to the lilting chord bath of "Fonseca Winds (Lament)," Pekler's synthesised surrealism is natural and inviting. There are more obtuse moments on the voyage, like the arrhythmic rattles and busy gamelan of "Tapobrana" or the musique-concrète suite "Onaseuse / Crespo / Rica De Oro," but even here the sounds swarm with more joy than you expect from "serious" electronic music.
The history of these phantom islands is mired by the savagery of European exploration, which the online project drives home, but the record doesn't focus on these themes. Instead, Pekler expands on his inquisitive vision for the allure of imagined lands with an album of strange beauty. In that sense, he captures the naïve optimism that accompanied the foolhardy expeditions to these non-existent places.
01. Approximate Bermeja
02. Hy Brasil
03. Sunshower at Sandy Island
04. Saxenburgh / Pepys / Aurora
05. Los Jardines
07. Description of Rain (Over Frisland)
08. Fonseca Winds (Lament)
09. Onaseuse / Crespo / Rica de Oro