Massive sheets of metal wobbling and rubbing against each other in some distant galaxy. Derek Rogers’s Aluminum Mirrors adapted for the 25th century. Tangerine Dream’s Zeit with the cello flung out the window. John Elliott’s Outer Space emissions doing the tango with Pulse Emitter’s Meditative Music series. The latest album from Greek sound artist Tasos Stamou, entitled Seven Synth Drone Studies, is exactly what it says on the tin. But there’s a rigid adherence to some seeming ascetic ideal here that some might dismiss as austere or academic, and the thing about these criticisms is that they’re true; this is indeed an academic and austere set of electronic exercises. But that needn’t make it a soulless snoozefest. Ryoji Ikeda’s 20′ To 2000.March: Variations For Modulated 440hz Sinewaves comes to mind; that 1999 release consists of 99 12-second sine wave modulations. Stamou more than doubles this length, and as a result his drones seem stretched to breaking point, sounding especially taut at certain moments (the last 40 seconds or so of “Study 2,” for example). But whereas Ikeda chose to zoom in on a single modulation, Stamou crafts an equal intimacy with a broader scope, toying with his uninterrupted panoramic frequencies in slow undulations.
Most impressively, these pieces at first seem hopelessly abstract but upon repeated listens coagulate into surprisingly recognizable forms. As it turns out, these are actual songs; they have climaxes, mood shifts, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to ascribe a narrative onto its content (these are simply “studies,” after all), I can confidently believe that they’ve been thoroughly crafted with the inquisitive precision of a mad horologist. The results of Stamou’s experiments are subtle, glacial creatures, breathing deep and patiently–hardly the languorous “coffee table book on the sustain pedal” schlock I’ll admit I was expecting. A pleasant surprise–Eleh fans in the mood for a little less minimalism in their synthy drones, take note!