Thursday, 10 October 2019

SEPL (Scorched Earth Policy Lab) - Full Drone Attack.

Album: Full Drone Attack
Artist: SEPL (Scorched Earth Policy Lab)
Label: Self-released
Catalogue no: N/A

      1.      Broken (Reprocessed)
      2.      Dull (Reprocessed)
      3.      Surface (Reprocessed)
      4.      Soul-Bender (Reprocessed)

The best way to describe these four slabs of sound is minimalist drone ambient textures that carry with them immense weight and power, plus expressive of both light and dark, and the undeniable ability to evoke moods. Not only that but each piece is based around a single species of drone, manipulated yes, but each is allowed to evolve in a very natural way. These four explorations and experiments are exercises in how drones can be as descriptive as any kind of music, except that they work on a much more primitive level, in that our responses to them are visceral. And, I think, drone elicits instant responses, because it goes straight to a level that I can only tag as ‘spiritual’.

‘Broken (Reprocessed)’, our first track, is absolutely gargantuan in size, a flying machine of enormous proportions gliding low over a populated area, using its sheer size and the noise it generates to threaten and intimidate. One can easily imagine a vessel of this kind, flying in at a speed so slow that it looks as if it’s barely able to stay up there in the sky. The engines produce a grainy machine growl that insinuates itself into every pore and cell of the body, shaking bones and liquefying organs. Couple that with its ability to almost completely blot out the sun, casting a densely black shadow on all below, and it’s easy to see the terror it can instil.

‘Dull (Reprocessed)’ is anything but, an oscillating mechanical drone that begins quite closed off in some ways, but gradually opens out into a full fractal bloom, lifting itself higher and higher. It takes the listener with it on its upward journey, elevating them through the layers of atmosphere, past the clouds, and into a pristinely cold but unaffected and unpolluted space. We’re right on the edge between earth and the unending void of the universe ‘out there’, and we can see that the azure blue we’re used to seeing is beginning to give way to a much darker hue, and below us we can see the curve of the world and the tiny shapes of the continents, while clouds majestically and slowly move on their mysterious journeys across the skies.

And SEPL does another about turn, as ‘Surface (Reprocessed)’ brings us a blast of feral noise, untameable and unstoppable. It’s a scirroco wind, burning hot and full of rasping, abrasive particles, ready to shred skin and set fire to vegetation. It cuts deeply into and blackens everything it passes over, leaving nothing but wounds and burns in its wake. The drones lighten up once again for ‘Soul-Bender (Reprocessed)’ but admittedly not by much. This is machine whirr and whine, invested with a malign intention behind it. This is one of those gale force winds that not only buffets and rocks you on your feet but also lets its chill fingers go right through you to search out every single weakness in you it can find. This is the malefic motivation behind its manifestation – to find those weaknesses and crush them, leaving behind a quivering husk. The soul is nothing to this kind of barrage: the very insubstantiality of this wind means it is equal to the nature of the soul and therefore it can get purchase on it. Perhaps it won’t be able to wrench it out completely, but it can most definitely twist it to its own nefarious ends.

What we have here then is a broad canvas of drone moods, essentially a quadrilogy of sonic paintings reflecting the innate possibilities of sound in general and drones in particular. In much the same that minimalist abstract art (I am thinking of Rothko’s monumental canvases here) can evoke particular responses so too can what to most people would appear to be monotonic notes. In this case, there are so many nuances here that they form a kind of narrative, a guidebook on how to go about exploring the basis of drone sound, how it affects us, and how we as musicians can manipulate it to produce specific effects. I think that SEPL have only just dunked their big toe into the waters of drone, and that there’s a lot more to come from this project. Good stuff.

Available as a digital download from here:

Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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