- The former Skaters artist Spencer Clark creates a richly detailed soundtrack for a hypothetical blockbuster sequel.
- Spencer Clark first cemented his name in the annals of experimental music with Skaters, his legendary '00s noise-then-New Age duo with James Ferraro. But through a series of obscure solo releases, he's achieved an otherworldly sound like nothing else in underground music today. The California-born, Antwerp-based musician's albums—made under aliases like Monopoly Child Star Searchers, Tarzana and Typhonia Highlife—are often hours-long epics built around dream-logic mythologies. They all come from his Emax II, a massive '80s sampling keyboard he loads with field recordings and vocalizations modulated into unrecognizable alien shapes. At first Clark's work might appear noteworthy only for weird sounds or wild concepts, but it's his virtuosic skill on the keyboard that elevates the music far beyond its pipe dreams.
Clark's latest creation, Avatar Blue, was conceived as the soundtrack to an imagined sequel to James Cameron's sci-fi blockbuster. It stretches 30 sprawling tracks of oceanic New Age textures, blown-out drums and hand-crafted synth leads that range from laser-like blasts to organic guttural hiccups, all mixed live in dubby swells. On the surface, it might all seem impenetrable. The album is over two hours long and includes both an introductory audio essay and a reading syllabus of vintage sci-fi novels and astrobiology books. But as you sink into Avatar Blue, the brilliant logic of these compositions becomes clear.
"Wetsuits Of Wiwaxia" and "Total Dorsal Recall" lay out the album's alternately ancient and futuristic palette in a thrilling 18-minute sweep. The former builds off a strobing synth chord as distorted chattering, wave crashes and fast arpeggios dart throughout. The latter references Total Recall, a hint at the album's enormous influence from the film composer Jerry Goldsmith, a pioneer of orchestral-synth fusions whose influence is resurgent in experimental music, most recently on Oneohtrix Point Never's heavily indebted Uncut Gems score.
Though his tracks tends to shoot in every direction at once, Clark can still zone in on stunning melodies. Take the oddly tender "Reef Showers," or the quieter moments in "Jellyscans In Heatwaves" and "Zena Sharks," which act like air pockets in Avatar Blue's overwhelming expanse. There are even moments that touch on dance music, like the pulsing loop propelling "Finspray Of The Mako Shark" or the taut marimba beat of "Fuxianhua Pre-Viz Coilers." But their resemblance to anything playing in a club on this planet feels completely coincidental.
Clark focuses so obsessively on each album's distinct tones that the songs within can blur together on first listen. This can prove overwhelming on releases like 2014's Pinhead In Fantasia or the H.R. Giger's Studiolo album cycle, an intensely dark and occult saga. But with each pass through, its twists and turns grows more familiar and exciting, like gradually deciphering a codex.
While the watery atmospheres on Avatar Blue's two CDs are among Clark's most inviting works, there's also a sense of him meeting fans halfway. The excellent vinyl pressing trims its runtime to 45 minutes and provides an even more vivid display of his unbelievable sound design. It's the finest introduction to his work you could ask for, but Avatar Blue is still best experienced in a full deep-dive. Clark's music is undeniably challenging, but this album hides rich, unexpected rewards. All you have to do is jump in.
01. Star Searchers - Avatar Blue Logo
02. Lightspots On A Sharkbody
03. Wetsuits Of Wiwaxia
04. Total Dorsal Recall
05. Freshly Sprayed Amino Tanks
06. Reef Showers
07. Emu Bay Biodomes
08. Blue-Green Algae Shadings
09. Intertidal Shadezones
10. Seaweed Covered Hi-Viz Aquanets
11. Thresher Shark Pods
12. Slitscans Of Diamond Shoals
13. Banshee Foam
14. Previsual Stingray Motion FX
15. Previsual Avatar Blue
01. Zena Sharks
02. Chengjiang Fauna
03. Oxygen Injections-Seaspray Injections
04. Avatar Blue Logo 2
05. Jellyscans In Heatwaves
06. Pre-Cambrian Graphics Pipeline
07. Free Swimming In Link Gel
09. Z-Brushing Tidal Gold
10. Stingray Motion FX Logo
11. Finspray Of The Mako Shark
12. Wet Fuxianhua
13. Pikai Green Coilers
14. Marine Snow Lines (UPWORLDS)
15. Fuxianhua Pre-Viz Coilers
16. Swimming Motions Of Graphic FX