Album Of The Week: TÉNÈBRE – Terraform (YUKU)

An overtly subtle but covertly dramatic body of work

“When it comes to doing an album – especially when coming from the club scene where you do EPs and tracks that need to be banging – I wanted to do an album to listen to at home. Something nice, easy to listen to, without tension or predominant club dynamic. It’s something I want myself but also to have in my discography.

Aside from club music, I’ve made a lot of non-linear soundscapes and pieces for AV experiences and installations at events like art or corporate exhibitions for things like streetwear brands. I couldn’t showcase what I was doing, though, because I had signed NDAs. I couldn’t show off or do a recap, it’s quite frustrating in a way. So I repurposed elements of them; a lot of materials, quite randomised. I picked the bits I liked the most and slowly a narrative formed around it.

At first I had tracks like Ultramarine, Frost, Morph, Dusk and Dawn. They were already sonic palettes but very singular experiences. Some were originally planned for a release on WNCL, others for an R&S release that never happened. But during lockdown, I was upcycling these element and making videos and, collaborating with YUKU gave me the opportunity and creative freedom to develop something much bigger.

I wanted to create a strong sense of immersion and make music that wasn’t structured like club music, but drew you in, in a similar way. This inspired the concept; because I was creating these pieces for confined spaces and small rooms, I came to the idea of working within confined climates. This was the concept of Terraforms. It was lockdown, everything is burning and we are all fucked, so it all fit together and worked.

The concept evolved when we started the visual aspect with the visual artist, my peer and friend TemensS who makes the installations I make my sound designs for. He helped me bring the visual concept together. Using software called VVVV – which is like a touchdesigner for geeks – we could create these topographic worlds made of fluctuating pixels.  We have access to parameters – height, noise, wind, turbulences – and have created individual videos for each track. The artwork you see on the album cover is actually a still shot of the worlds in motion.

These videos will be revealed soon and will add another aspect to Terraform and possibly bring things together. It’s been an inspiring departure from making club music when the world did not need any more club music. Something immersive that isn’t in your face. Technical without sounding too technical. I have enjoyed the Terraform way…”

An outfit should never be worn just once…

Ténèbre’s dual creative alias as a sound designer for art installations and exhibitions means he’s tailored myriad sonic suits. But just because they’ve filled their original brief, why leave them to gradually decay on a hard drive when he can subvert, contort, flip and resample far beyond their original purpose?

Each canvas completely non-linear, just loops and soundscapes arranged to fill environments far far away from the club they’re the perfect ingredients for Terraform; an album that is intended to take you away to another world… But created in a way that won’t alienate you.

As such, there’s a gentle feeling of familiarity drifting throughout the experience. Subtleties in the pads, arpeggios and chord progressions that nod towards, or call to mind, aesthetics and ideas that have peppered others palettes over the years… Echoes of Metalheadz intros, murmurs of Bedrock breakdowns, an essence of Trenetmoller, a slight twinge of Burial, little bubbles of Aphex. Wry tropes rippling between Ténèbre’s own perspective and our own reference points.

Made for chilling to, but 20,000 leagues away from chilled music; there’s a gutsy theme of drama and poignancy throughout this album. Morph, for example, pulls us in to land from outer space and brings us back into grit with its rolling breakbeats while Tocsin stalks like a prowling predator through a swamp in a way that wouldn’t have gone amiss on Massive Attack’s 100th Window. Out Of Breathe 2020, meanwhile, is a smouldering ball of distortion shivering in tension.

But while beats ghost through the album, making fleeting and untypical appearances along the journey, what’s most overwhelming is the sense of triumph that can be consistently felt. Frost, for instance, brings out the horns with a regal insistence, playfully stopping for brief clips of silence. Like a game of chicken; it dares to pull the plug on this great immersive universe… Only to kick it back in with technicolour.

Aalp is another moment of total victory and surging, urgent hope. A swooping sequence, rattling away on a wonky two-step, Ténèbre’s use of volume has an incredibly effective dynamic that pulls and pushes in equal measure. But the most powerful moment of triumph comes right at the finale.

Dusk creates closure on the great emotional storm the album brews up inside you. A booming, vibrant sunrise of a crescendo; Your home team has won, your long lost lover is back, you’ve found that special thing that can never be replaced, the government has been overthrown… Perhaps a hazy medley of all these sensations. A victorious nightcap on a genuinely unique, overtly subtle but covertly dramatic body of work, it leaves you feeling like you’ve been somewhere or you’ve done something worthwhile before gently fading away, ready to be brought out and worn again… Just like a favourite outfit.

Ténèbre – Terraform is out now on YUKU

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