Quarterly

Summer 2013 | ArteZine

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Print this pageEmail this to someone

The Morphology of Rhythm: An Examination of Six Works by Morphosis

By

There are no drum-machines, only rhythm synthesizers programming new intensities from white noise, frequencies, waveforms, altering sampled drum sounds into unrecognizable pitches. The drum-machine has never sounded like drums because it isn’t percussion: it’s electronic current, synthetic percussion, syncussion. – Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant than the Sun

Listen to Morphosis, Musafir

A sputtering saxophone and a submerged baseline vie for the opening minute of Rabih Beaini’s Musafir. The chugging, ascending beat soon drowns the intermittent sax and the track vaporizes into a rhythmic delirium. Bursts of electric current polluting the beat, distant synths bubbling in your right ear, and the saxophone manages to find its way back into the mix. On the second track Running Out, the interlocking of sharp SF bleeps and thunderous percussion design a strand of mutant funk both infectious and diabolic. Although an important and continuous source of inspiration for the Lebanese producer, what is at work here draws less on Theo Parrish’s techno-soul fabulations than on the permutational and contingent environments of free jazz that begin to hack into the dance floor. A radically different record, OAR004 by Oni Ayhun (Olaf Dreijer), released the same year, shares Beaini’s affinity in teasing out the resonant and textural contours of instruments and sonorous bodies in order to then feed them into relentless beats. Ayhun claims to have synthesized OAR004-A and OAR004-B, which make up the fourth release in his techno-serialist catalogue, from a series of chemical reactions involving Carbon Dioxide and acid salts.

Beani’s hub for conducting explorations in the outer limits of jazz and techno is less of a chemistry lab and more of an archaeological vessel akin to Sun Ra’s Arkestra, an ambulant group of myth-scientists summoning interplanetary time-travel through an exhumation of Ancient Egypt. Running Out/Musafir, released on M>O>S Recordings in 2010, assembles, in the tradition of off-world explorers ranging from Sun Ra to Jeff Mills, a sonic travelogue (musafir is Arabic for traveler) that splices the city into the vacuum of the studio and then channels it into outer space.

Perhaps the operations at play in each of Beaini’s (aka Morphosis) tracks are best mapped by another voyager’s recent invitation to interplanetary time-travel. In 2012, London-based Bass Clef (Ralph Cumbers) releases Reeling Skullways, an album of machinic angular transmissions enabled by a pointillist precision in modular synthesis. One of the tracks is entitled Hackney-Chicago-Jupiter. The work of Morphosis proposes an equally delirious itinerary.

“Myth narrates a sacred history; it relates an event that took place in primordial Time, the fabled time of the “beginnings.” In other words myth tells how, through the deeds of Supernatural Beings, a reality came into existence, be it the whole of reality, the Cosmos, or only a fragment of reality–an island, a species of plant, a particular kind of human behavior, an institution.” –  Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality.

The artwork of the two Dark Myths of Phoenicia installments, released on Morphine in 2007 and 2008, depicts a luminous green matter that spills over in the form of an ancient gaseous figure that has been unearthed through the means of some advanced technology of capture. Mot (the god of death) and Yam (the god of sea) inhabit Beaini’s second audio-myth installment. This coupling of sound and myth, mediated by track titles and a text/press release, calls for an examination of the relation between techno as the engineering of intensive abstractions on one hand, and the track title’s capacities to evoke themes, narratives, and worlds latent in the audio material, on the other. How can one tap into a mythological temporality through audition? The Detroit electronic music duo Drexciya, for instance, created what Kodwo Eshun identifies as cartographic track titles (e.g. Bubble Metropolis, Dead Man’s Reef) to summon aquatic underworlds.

What is manufactured as a result is a mode of listening that becomes associative, making connections between the imagery summoned by the track titles on one hand, and the navigating tones and liquid percussion on the other. In the case of Baal and Mot by Morphosis, the ancient mythological landscape of Byblos, is indexed with an aerial or ambient horror that permeates the tracks, through the use of what seems to be a droning voice perforated by undulations of static and a fluttering beat, as in the case of Baal. A kind of terrestrial environment is modulated by manipulating volume to create a sense of three-dimensional space, as opposed to the spasmic synths flying off in the void of tracks like Running Out. The melancholy of Yaam (Dark Myths of Phoenicia – Part 2 of 2) is modulated by a thin layer of synthetic percussion that becomes a rhythmic meter in an otherwise persistent yet dynamic ambient fog.

One way to navigate Beaini’s discography in fact, is to examine his interest in modeling sonic translations of what travels through air. The Tepco Report (2012), also released on Beaini’s own Morphine Records, refers to the Fukushima Nuclear Accidents Investigation Report released by the Tokyo Electric Power Company, whose objective is “to investigate the causes of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (hereinafter referred to as “Fukushima Daiichi”) based on the facts known to date and the results of several analyses, and to put forward the necessary measures to contribute to improving the safety at the other existing nuclear power plants.” Side A: Exposure unfolds like an aerial incursion, much like radiation. Beat-less, the track is stripped down to a tectonic rumble and a wave of high-pitched tones panning left and right like automated probes. Postatomicpoetry, on the other hand, pits a monolithic low end, against abrasive, drawn-out synths.

Listen to Morphosis, The Tepco Report

In an interview with Resident Advisor’s Todd L. Burns, Beaini explains the process of making his first album What Have We Learned: “I made it in two days. Well, actually it took two days to plug the whole thing in and two days to perform it. But everything was improvised. The hardest part was plugging it in!” Both the assemblage/layering work and the improvisational/live feel can be heard in most of what Beaini constructs, be it in the track, the remix, the album, or the mix/live DJ set.

Beaini’s sprawling three-hour DJ set at Panorama Bar first appeared online in the form of a one-hour mix (the first hour from the set), on mnml ssgs, a now-defunct blog for music criticism, interviews, mixes, and critical reflections on contemporary electronic music. Throughout the mostly beatless 64 minutes, Morphosis sculpts the industrial slime of Metasplice’s Bohrium Slunk, the caustic ripples of Ekopleklz’s Neutronik II, the crystalline mathematics of Hieroglyphic Being’s 1763 MHZ, and the nervous cinematic landscapes of Iranian musician Sohrab, as well as pieces by other musicians, into a sentient garden of trickling and buzzing sounds.

A week later, mnml ssgs and Beaini decided to post the recording in its entirety. The 182-minute mnml ssgs mx fnl – morphosis (extended version) quickly became one of the most praised, circulated, and discussed live DJ set in 2012. The tracklist for the remaining two hours was not published, and listeners and bloggers on forums were playing the guessing game as to what they were listening to. The live set was also designed as a testing/teasing ground for future releases. For instance, the readers of the mnml ssgs blog, after the release of the first hour of the set, were asking the blog administrators to divulge the title of the track at the 52-minute mark, which was then announced when the entire recording was posted. The track turns out to be Bohrium Slunk by Metasplice, extracted from the Topographical Interference EP, which was only released on Morphine Records a few days later.

Beaini’s mix demonstrates with great precision the potential of the mix or live DJ set to construct an environment that is permutable, giving a sense of something that is difficult to confine or collect, a creation that is seemingly unbound. Beaini achieves this feeling of an amorphous duration through the aqueous blending of tracks that are identifiable and others that are disfigured beyond recognition, perforated by compositions that are simply anonymous, such as the untitled drum pattern mentioned in the tracklist for the first hour. Each track is conceived as an entity to be corrupted, as opposed to a wholesome finished work. Slowed down, twisted, pitted against another track, synthesized into a third faceless composition, the mix proceeds by reducing narrative to its motor impulses. Blocks of movement are engineered through the connection of velocities that begin to incessantly accumulate and collide, infecting the mix with patterns of techno and noise.

In the same vein, What We Have Learned (album) advances with a narrative that has been depopulated, reduced to a series of studies in movement. From the rickety, vehicular thrust of Silent Screamer to the cyclonic motion of Wild in Captivity and the scintillating flight of synths on the closing track Europa, everything seems to be measured by the Roland TR-808 rhythm synthesizer, which here acts as some sort of perverse chronometer. What Have We Learned has a rather tenacious temperament. Synths glide at overwhelming velocities, static surges like an indiscriminate torrent; everything seems stretched out into disfiguration. The mold of a track is already announced in its title: Dirty Matter, Spiral, Ascension. When the listener is provided time to breathe, as with Gate of Night, Beaini sidesteps the ambient soundscape in favor of something more tactile and porous, swarming at you in all directions like a web of percolating dots.

Listen to Morphosis, Silent Screamer

The forms which Morphosis synthesizes into sound, be it the travelogue, the report, or the mix, fabricate a mode of listening that struggles with the indiscernible and the unidentifiable, precipitating an alluring, sometimes infuriating impulse to determine what exactly is making all these sounds, staging a strange relationship between the listener and the music that artist Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) diagnoses as the “erotic thing about electronic music.”

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Before moving to Venice in 1996, Beaini worked as a DJ in Lebanon, playing in clubs and on radio stations. Beaini now resides in Berlin and works across global platforms of electronic music production, spanning Beirut, Amsterdam, and Berlin. He runs the label Morphine, which has released some of the most outlandish electronic music hybrids in the last few years, by artists such as Madteo, Metasplice, and Container. On the occasion of the 13th edition of Irtijal, the International Festival for Experimental Music in Lebanon (3-6 April 2013), Beaini performed both as Morphosis and as part of Upperground Orchestra, and released his new album AlBidaya (as Rabih Beaini) on Lebanese label Annihaya. All images and text are copyrighted material owned by either the artist and/or writer and are reprinted with explicit permission for ArteEast Online and cannot be reprinted without consent of artist or author.

Photo courtesy of Tanya Traboulsi

About the Author:
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Print this pageEmail this to someone

Quarterly