Rene Hell (aka Jeff Witscher)â€™s Terminal Symphony is one of the most important albums of the year, and a breakthrough in terms of synthesizer music even at its most difficult moments. Â It took me many listens to realize this, of course, which is part of why Iâ€™m writing this several months after its release.Â (The other reasons are more exciting and less relevant to this review.)Â But mainly, as with cherished classical pieces, the structure on Symphony is secondaryâ€”the music washes over the listener and dissolves into an extremely interesting, well-crafted, coherent album.
Structurally, Witscher is reacting to the established practice of the scene.Â Often experimental music is made on a reactionary basis.Â Based on an initial set of conditions, decisions are made carefully, safelyâ€”a couple of taped-down keys, a synth patch, a sequence of pedalsâ€”that can quickly spiral into out-of-control boredom and meaninglessness.
Instead, Witscher has done the opposite, structuring the pieces rigidly in every way, inspired by classical composition.Â There are beginnings, middles, and ends to each side; main themes and recapitulations; and tonal associations from the drone, noise, and synth worlds.Â The result is music that can be read deeply, interacted with, grown with.Â This is the excitement of the albumâ€”itâ€™s a new, well-executed way to construct and think about synth music, crystallizing the connection between classical and electronic music at the present moment.
But, as he is a merry prankster, Witscher hasnâ€™t left classical music on a pedestal either.Â His track titles with ridiculous references to classical forms, pieces, and other ephemera reveal both an intimate knowledge of the tradition and an unmistakable piss-take.Â Itâ€™s audaciously egalitarian, leaving the listener with the thrilling notion that all of Western music is equally valuable, equally worthless, equally ripe.