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[2011 in Review: Occult Modem Settings, ‘Compression Artifacts’]

Occult Modem Settings–a name that evokes the concrete and the intransigent, the mystical and the material. On Compression Artifacts, Rochester’s Steven Danglis blends this duality into a series of soundscapes–or perhaps a better term would be ‘tone poems’–as the notion of conventional song structure is completely absent. What we have instead is essentially a single drone piece that is divided up into six smaller fragments, i.e. songs, over the course of the album.

There is not much “music,” per se, on Compression Artifacts; instead, most of the instrumentation consists largely of sustained guitar and synth feedback, coupled with synthesized pedal tones. Along with that there are strategically sprinkled bits and pieces of vocals, hushed and dreamlike, sometimes so hushed and dreamlike that they are rendered unintelligible, conveying more mood than message.

The actual notes being played are rather fixed and don’t change much over the course of the album, as is consistent with the whole ‘drone’ philosophy. It is a type of minimalism taken to an extreme, almost to the point of it being a form of theta-wave meditation inducement, something that all the art freaks and the cyber-stoners will enjoy zoning out to.

Toward the middle of the album, however, the listener is confronted with the most dramatic tonal shift of Compression Artifacts, whereby the steady drone swings from a major key into a minor key. While this represents a pivotal moment in Compression Artifacts, it is perhaps the only one. Instead, this is an album built more around subtler changes that demand close attention to detect.

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Review by Liam McManus