Kangding Ray: Solens Arc

[28 April 2014]

By Alex Franquelli

According to the press release that comes along with it, Solens Arc is “what remains after the subtraction of the goal, a simple parabolic curve defined by gravity, impulse and starting angle. No target to hit, no catharsis to wait for, just the beauty of the flight.” This state of musical inertia is reflected in the four movements that make up the album: each of them is essentially a parabolic curve which consumes itself within the space of three tracks, an emphatic crescendo that disappears into the infinite unknown.
Kangding Ray (aka French-born David Letellier) has never been completely at ease with the crisp, robotic character of techno and electronic music. And, all things considered, that is a good thing. Because the many possibilities presented by hybridism manifest themselves in the tension between biology and mechanics that is characteristic of his notoriously energetic live sets or experimental tracks, like the superb ethnomusicological piece composed for the Quai Branly Museum in Paris a few months back. And Solens Arc is indeed an album that is affected by this uneasiness.

“Serendipity March”, “The River (Reprise)”, “Amber Decay” and “Crystal” are the four tracks from which as many trajectories originate. Their inertial state makes them vulnerable entities attracted into the orbits of dubstep or the likes of Autechre and Ryoji Ikeda, Burial or even the latest, more intimate version of Nine Inch Nails. Whatever distance the tunes decide to cover, the glitch, the beat and the overall minimalist attitude draw a curve that is invariably kept together by Berlin’s minimalist, darker approach to electronic music. Kangding Ray’s adopted city provides in fact the background of this daring, yet accessible form of obscure pop reminiscent of previous works like OR, or that subtle effort in musique concrète and drones that was Automne Fold.
The real achievement here, today, lies in the Frenchman’s ability to wisely combine all these influences into what can be seen as an effective and consistent piece of work. Nothing but the overarching techno jolt prevails, and everything serves the dramatic texture of the ambience (“Blank Empire”), and the delicate dynamics of the faintest tracks - “Son” and “The River (Reprise)” above the rest.

This is, by far, Kangding Ray’s best album because it manages to rearrange the groove by taming noise, as he does in “Apogee” or the fierce “Transitional Ballistic”. Or because his music’s orbit is so exposed that it gets easily deflected by other fellow entities. But it is chance, not chaos that determines the variables according to which Solens Arc manages to travel farther away than most of its contemporary electro-music commuters. An album whose course is so precarious, sensitive, poignant and fragile that it can be ultimately described as absolutely “human”. Definitely more human than human.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/180578-kangding-ray-solens-arc/