Sunday, 12 January 2020

Atomine Elektrine - The Antikythera Mechanism.

Artist: Atomine Elektrine
Label: Winter-Light
Catalogue no: N/A

     1.      Arcturus Alpha Boo
     2.      Metonic Spiral
     3.      The Exeligmos Pointer
     4.      Time Dislocated in the Mechanism
     5.      Epicyclic Gearing
     6.      Fragment F

Atomine Elektrine is better known as Peter Andersson, also known as Raison D’etre, purveyor of industrial ambient soundtracks to the blasted wastelands of our future. As AE, however, he presents us with a deeper and more mysterious vision, an atmosphere which haunts the equally enigmatic Antikythera Mechanism itself. This artefact was found in the sea off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901, and has been identified as an analogue computer used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses, presumably for calendrical and astrological purposes (astronomy, as we understand it today, didn’t exist, and the prevailing belief was that the stars and movements of the planets held spiritual significance) as well as time-keeping. The mechanism has been studied extensively, and while there was a lot of debate concerning its purpose, but judging by what I’ve read the ‘computer’ theory has been generally accepted.

Even knowing that hasn’t dispelled the aura of mystery surrounding the find – if anything it’s only increased it. Blinkered perhaps by our modern-centric view of the past, many find it hard to encompass the idea that ancient people could possibly create an artefact as advanced as this appears to be, hence the enigmatic aura that still clings to it. That very same lingering atmosphere of mystery and awe informs this six-tracker, released on the quality Dutch Winter-Light label. Having reviewed a few of their releases now, I’ve garnered a sense of what they’re about, and I can say that this fits in perfectly with their ethos.

Starting off with the deep bass seismic rumblings of ‘Arcturus Alpha Boo’ (Arcturus Alpha Boötis ie Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation of Boötes the herdsman, ploughman, or ox-driver), this establishes the album’s premise without any preamble. The atmosphere is distinctly inhuman, but this shouldn’t be taken in a negative context – on the contrary, it’s entirely due to being slaves to the idea that ancient peoples were incapable of inventing something so sophisticated. Put simply, the mechanism is definitely human in conception and execution, and is completely explicable from a human standpoint. Saying that, listening to this sweeping opening track one can easily envisage vast distances that are incomprehensible to the human mind, focusing on a point in the galaxy that is itself buried deeply in a matrix of mystery, imbued with forces beyond understanding, and yet with this mechanism the user establishes some kind of a connection. The music too, makes that very same connection, a link to the same universal verities that the ancients believed at the time the object was created. Furthermore, we don’t really know how the mechanism actually operated, so we are as much wrapped in the cloak of mystery about it as the ancient Greeks were of the underpinnings of the universe.

The mystery continues with ‘Metonic Spiral’ (a metonic cycle [or Enneadecaetris] is, according to Wikipedia, a period of almost exactly 19 years that is nearly a common multiple of the solar year and the synodic month, named after Meton of Athens). It begins quietly enough, swelling into the consciousness with distant reverberations, scratches, and crystalline notes that hang effortlessly in the air, only to fall with a deliberate slowness as if caught in a stretched moment of time. Perhaps this is saying that here we have an eternal mystery that only time itself understands, and thus it will forever be just out of our reach. That sense is only further emphasised when the track morphs into swirling waves of deep oscillating rumble, sending out gravitational waves of glacial deliberation. An exeligmos, as in the title of the third track ‘The Exeligmos Pointer’, is an astronomical period of 54 years, 33 days used for predicting eclipses in the same location. Pulsing echoes, more waves of bass underpinnings, indicate that the makers of the Antikythera Mechanism were aware of astronomical cycles, as slow as they are, and that they signified a quantifiable (and therefore perfectly ordered) certainty, something that only the gods were capable of instituting.

‘Time Dislocated in the Mechanism’ is our next temporal stop along the way, and we arrive to the sound of a bass rumble gently and subtly making its presence felt, which is gradually overlaid with string-like drones and what sounds like slow-motion mud bubbles popping. Perhaps, on a quantum level, this is exactly what time sounds like, if sound were able to make noise at all. The dislocation referred to in the title appears to reference a slowing down of the time-stream that we live inside, stretching out like an elastic band. Eventually these give way to even stranger noises, metallic sounds as if we’re being entertained by an alien gamelan orchestra. It’s all bizarre and indefinably unsettling, perhaps underscoring the idea that time itself is an elastic concept, subject to personal perception.

Next up is ‘Epicyclic Gearing’, a prosaic title perhaps for a thoroughly engaging piece, rhythmic in places while disjointed in others, a track that references the fact that the Greeks invented epicyclic gearing (it would take too long to explain the workings here: the internet is your friend. Suffice to say that it’s too complicated for my puny brain to get my head around). Assorted rhythms jostle for supremacy, fading in and out, coming to the fore and then receding into the background, ebbing and flowing like tides on the shores of reality. Metallic, mechanical staccatos predominate here, suggesting both the Antikythera artefact itself as well as the very precise nature of time as we understand it (or at least perceive it). It also appears to be saying that time is a function of biology – after all, the only beings who apparently ‘see’ and attach importance to time are humans, and our perception is entirely a function of the human brain.

Finally, we reach the end in the form of ‘Fragment F’, the title referring to a piece found in 2005, which is one of the major fragments that contains sixteen inscriptions. The track starts with a series of plucked tones, played in a freeform manner, perhaps indicative of the unknown nature of the purpose of the fragment in question. Overlaid upon this is a distinct carpet of gentle, soaring susurrations, like whispers of the past reaching out to us from those inscriptions, or perhaps the voices of the creators of the mechanism themselves. It all builds up to a slow climax, leaving me with the impression of a vast black hole sucking in time and swallowing it, transporting it to a place where all is lost and irretrievable. This is, perhaps, what Stephen Hawking meant when he posited the idea of information being lost inside a black hole. And yet, there are still faint echoes remaining, tantalising but incomplete, presenting us with theories and concepts that are both simultaneously tangible and elusive.

There’s very definitely a formula to each piece, as every track is essentially composed of two halves, the first half always morphing into something new and different. But isn’t this the effect that time has on the nature of reality itself? Time moves forward, and so does reality, especially in terms of human endeavour and creativity. Time affects us in intangible ways that always appear to be holding the intent of refining and perfecting. We see it all around us, in the objects we buy and sometimes replace, and in the people we surround ourselves with. Time is a slippery customer, but I think Peter Andersson has still managed to pin it down sufficiently to enable its qualities to be perceived as a function of evolution – all things have their beginnings, and they all grow and evolve, taking on new shapes and meanings as they do so. Atomine Elektrine have essentially given us a thesis as to how this all works, by taking us back to the past so that we can project ourselves into the future.

Psymon Marshall 2020.

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