Akira Rabelais "Caduceus"

2010, sound cd ss019

On his samadisound debut, Spellewauerynsherde, Akira Rabelais crafted austere settings to found recordings of Icelandic songs of lament. His follow-up, Caduceus, is a different beast – a study of guitar and extreme distortion that’s both harsh and mesmerising. samadhisound founder David Sylvian describes it as “caustically romantic”: “Akira's recording presents you with an auditory experience quite unlike any other. It's by turns a brutal and discomforting ride. Outside of the full-on audio assault, there's unsettling disquiet in its quietude. Once heard it won't be forgotten and for those seeking out recorded music that is transformative, experiential, this material has that potency.”

Raised in Texas, Rabelais played guitar in a series of Austin-based bands throughout the 80's before moving into electronic music, going on to study at Bennington College and the California Institute of Arts. Rabelais recalls, “I think the first glimmer of Caduceus came in the summer of 1996, in a Milan hotel as I was suffering through food poisoning and jet lag... all the water trying leave my body at once, while I was working on source for a show. I reverted to a former self, sometime in the late 80's, an echo of my Austin days spent playing in dreamy industrial bands with aggressive distortion.”

To create Caduceus, Rabelais processed recordings of guitar through the Argeïphontes Lyre, a software instrument of his own design. It’s a decade-old codebase that’s written like a poem and tended like a garden: as Rabelais explains, his work comes from a process of “music driving software, and software feeding music.” “I was always making little instruments as a child, lots of odd stringed things and percussion bits … metal plates along a barbed-wire fence. I think AL descends from this bloodline. It scratches my four year old self’s itch to ring metal plates with a bb-gun.”

Opening cut “seduced by the silence” stretches the guitar into a screeching, unnatural noise, the attack amplified and the sustain panned aggressively back and forth while other tones crest high above it: obvious manipulations without an obvious motive. Fifteen delicate seconds follow before “then the substanceless blue,” a masterful arrangement of textures: a distant, nostalgic minor riff on the guitar that is buried under more sounds, some clean, some hopelessly warped. Its counterpart, “where to let our scars fall in love,” repeats the figure from the first but with far harsher static, groaning like a smashed transistor radio.

“night dances through heaven’s black amnesia” is Caduceus at its brashest: a barrage of nearly white-noise masking slow swells and a distant, resonant chord, assaulting the ears as the glint of a clearer tone cowers underneath. Yet even here it’s the details, the gradual manipulations and the uncertain intent that captivate the ear. It prepares the listener to find the exquisite beauty of “and emptiness over eyes,” or to flinch at the hard stop at the end.

To create the distortion, Rabelais wrote a filter by modeling sources such as fuzz boxes and old guitar pedals. Samples of AM radio also lurk in the mix. “You can hear faint fragments of voice in a couple of places on the album. I used static concretely and as a data modeling source. It's exceptionally tasty... right up there with a wedge of Red Leicester and a well structured Nero d'Avola.”

Several of the pieces on Caduceus evolved in multiple directions, and all but one of the tracks are presented in two parts – for example, the opening and closing cuts, or tracks three and four. “As with just about everything I do it's mostly a matter of listening and waiting for the tracks to reveal their intentions. The album came to have a cinematic quality in my mind’s eye, something like a soundtrack to a Western by Cocteau and Chris Cunningham.” Listening suggests scenes – the slow-motion gunfight, the hero’s death, the peace of sleeping under the stars. But usually a soundtrack sticks to the background; few films could stand up to Caduceus’ onslaught.

Perhaps the most challenging release in samadhisound’s catalog, Caduceus is rigorous, uncommon, and essential. Its sonic rewards are matched only by the chance to grapple with the personality behind it, which is as mercurial as the title suggests.

Tracklisting and MP3 samples may be accessed at

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