- Valentino Mora takes ambient techno into the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean.
- Valentino Mora's debut album starts on the ocean floor: the "Hadal Zone," a track named after the deepest part of an underwater trench. This zone comprises a tiny fraction of the sea's floor, yet it's captivated mankind as long as we've been aware of its existence, with crews and unmanned vessels from all over the world attempting, and failing, to reach it. It's a place of endless darkness, a gaping, black hole in our view of the world. The French producer conjures imaginary visions of this place with a deep, formidable buzz and a hollowed-out melody. Play it loud enough and it could be a Sunn O))) track. The seven-minute drone is both an audacious and subtle start to an album that reimagines techno underwater: drums become submersibles while synth leads approximate the sway and swoop of jellyfish and other ocean life. The totality of the ocean permeates every sound and sensation on Underwater.
The vast expanse of the ocean isn't a novel theme in electronic music—the world of Drexciya being a classic example—but on Underwater, Mora's dogged thematic commitment to the depths is admirable. Starting on the ocean floor and moving upwards from there, the record slowly emerges as something resembling techno. Rhythms start to coalesce in the gooey slo-mo trance of "Mass Frequenz" and develop into a broken, barreling rhythm on "Inhalation. This culminates on "Membrane," whose shuddering drums wouldn't be out of place on a Samurai Horo record—not quite techno, not quite drum & bass, but an appealing liminal zone in-between.
Each track is dominated by booming low-end and saturated with droning, midrange melody, mimicking the effect of being submerged. It's an effect that feels remarkably immersive. The music is also unusually slow, giving it a weighed-down feeling that makes it feel different than other techno records. Some tracks are soothing in their largesse, while others are frightening, like "Morphosa," where a groaning, sinus cavity-rattling synth "Morphosa" is the aural equivalent of water filling up your lungs, as twinkling melodies play out an eerie death knell. That's not to say that the record is particularly claustrophobic or aggressive. It highlights the darkest depths of the ocean, but also explores its more tranquil waters, creating a dualism between calm and volatility that defines the album.
For heads who have been following Mora's output over the years, this dive into hypnotic techno might come as a surprise. But in subtle trippy moments, like the slow tabla rhythms on "Spiral Falls," Mora's music seems of a piece with Spazio founders Donato Dozzy and Neel: elegant, understated, subtly psychedelic. He understands what makes this kind of music tick: it's not just repetitive and hypnotic, but alive and organic and full of small, dynamic details.
Part of the success of Underwater comes not just from Mora's incredible production, but the sequencing of the album, too. The way the record croaks to life, taking its time to savour every whirlpool rhythm as the melodies and sounds shift around it, is captivating. The album has a clear beginning, middle and end, rather than just saddling you with an hour of droning techno.
The conceit of techno borne from the depths allows Mora to explore novel territory within the context of Spazio-style music. Across Underwater, Mora recontextualizes elements with proven big-room utility—cavernous reverb, ricocheting percussion and fathoms-deep kicks—for a techno sound that's far more elusive and interior. It's no small feat to appear on Dozzy and Neel's label and expand upon their trademark style. The way that Mora's slow-drip techno drifts and changes on Underwater plunges you leagues below traditional deep techno, plumbing unknown depths as thrilling as they are foreboding.
01. Hadal Zone
02. Mass Frequenz
03. Spiral Falls