Montreal’s Alien8 Records, fine purveyors of esoteric experimental noisemakers such as Merzbow and Aube, have branched out with Tomas Jirku. A dub-influenced sound maker from Toronto, Jirku comes across as a less abstract Vladislav Delay. That’s the immediate sense of things on Variants, with soundscapes sculpted out of bits and bytes on a powerbook much like Delay. Let’s be more generous though; let’s put him on the side of the ambient Alien8 releases such as David Kristian, with Jirku closer, in not so obvious ways, to Aube’s “mellow” audio experiment, “Cardiac Strain.” Like Kristian, this is less about dancefloors and more about headspaces and headphones, the stress being on finely tuning ears to subtle textures and smooth, rippling contours rather than getting bodies to jack convulsively to upwardly mobile BPMs.
While not one of Alien8’s more cerberal exercises, it certainly does demand the listener’s attention. This is microscopic music, in line with Oval, Sutekh, and those sound manipulators who stock the Mille Plateaux/Chain Reaction stables, with nuanced tweeks giving over to subtle and evolving gradations in sound and beat. The shifts in tone and tempo are handled with a deliberateness which evokes a fragile atmosphere of almost glacial ornateness. But this is not entirely frigid stuff. Beneath the light dusting of frost, there is a groove, a slow hazy one snaking through almost all the tracks. Clicks and bleeps are cut and paste together along melodic lines, abrasive edges smoothed over by supple, manipulated the dub-rooted bass lines.
This is cavernous stuff, though, with subsonic sonar-like sounds bouncing from channel to channel, echoing, reverberating and dissipating in turn, giving themselves over to new layers as each beat or melody joins the mix. Stretching similes here, Variants comes across like a hazy symphony of diving bells, artfully arranged but clamouring to reach the surface. Playing repetition and layering off of one another there comes a certain density and depth that reveals itself through repeated listens. And while there might be some disses for saying something as classless as “it’s a nice groovy record,” it’s certainly a notable change of pace for Alien8 and bodes well for their future in branching out.