Music

Fave Five: Rafael Anton Irisarri

Evan Sawdey
Photo: Nikita Grushevskiy / Courtesy of the artist

As one of the most celebrated ambient composers working today, Rafael Anton Irisarri continues to evolve. We celebrate his metal-tinged new album Peripeteia with a look through the albums that made him.

Peripeteia
Rafael Anton Irisarri

Dais

22 May 2020

For a guy that doesn't sing, ambient kingpin Rafael Anton Irisarri still communicates a lot through this song titles -- and they are often bleak affairs.

Whether the song is called "Infinite Stillness" with his electronic band Orcas or "Burn Me Out From the Inside" with his experimental duo known as the Sight Below or "Oh Paris, We're Fucked" from his nuclear apocalypse daydream of a solo record Midnight Colours, Irisarri is unafraid to use his mastery of the wordless soundscape to put forth messages that reflect the bleak and uncompromising times we're living in. Yet his solo efforts and collaborations aren't feel-bad listens so much as they are utterly cathartic, finding beauty in torn up digital landscapes. He achieved this perhaps no better than his 2017 collaboration with Leandro Fresco called La Equidistancia. The duo's gorgeous layers of melody proved to be nothing short of a gift for the ears, with that record topping out as PopMatters' Best Ambient/Instrumental Record of the year.

Ever prolific, Irisarri is back with another beautifully desolate soundscape in the form of Peripeteia, his first solo effort for Dais Records. Referred to in his press release as "power ambient", there is assuredly a sense of dread that shapes Peripeteia that has always been present in Irisarri's work but never so prominently featured. Waves of distortion get lost in echo chambers, with walls of white noise soon fading into pink and then into saturated blood red. It is a blistering ambient piece full of tension and release. Its stark tone is reflected in the song titles, with tracks being named "Between the Negative Voids" and "Vanishing Points" as a way to set the listener up for a listening experience that's brutal and beautiful.

So to help mark the occasion, Irisarri sat down to list his Fave Five records, going with the category of his "Five Favorite Albums of All Time (At This Time)". Each LP selected gives a little bit more insight into his dynamic sense of texture and composition, setting him for one of the most involved and elaborate careers in ambient music that's still going strong to this day.

1. Arvo Pärt - Tabula Rasa [ECM, 1984]

This work by the Estonian maestro is simply mesmerizing. I started listening to his compositions almost 25 years ago, and they have never ceased to impress me every time I listen to the recordings. I've been lucky enough to witness a few performances of Pärt's work live, and it's always been a beautiful experience. ECM as a whole has a very inspirational catalog (Steve Reich, Keith Jarrett, Jon Hassell), and Arvo's music is the icing on the cake. Arvo Pãrt's sense of harmony inspired almost all of Peripeteia's vocal parts.

2. Bathory - Hammerheart [Noise, 1990]

I love this Bathory album, the start of the so-called "Viking Metal" movement (whatever that means). Particularly inspirational for me is the sound of Quorthon's voice. The raspiness of it while singing the melodies sort-of-in-tune is like catnip to my ear. There's so much deep-seated anger and resentment in the lyrics -- pure raw emotion when talking about the pillage of Scandinavia by the Christianization process. For me, as a descendant of the indigenous people of Europe (the Basques), I can sympathize with the anti-Christian lyrics. After all, Spain endured centuries of the Inquisition and in the Basque Country, mainly the burning of "witches" (those who practice "pagan" Basque rituals like Akelarre and followed the indigenous region's mythology).

Sound-wise, the lo-fi overall tone of this album is also rather refreshing for a genre obsessed with "polished" sounds (think all those super pristine sounding metal albums in the mainstream at the time -- like fuck you, Bob Rock). I love things that sound a little bit beaten up and broken. Rough around the edges.

3. Seefeel - Quique [Too Pure, 1993]

Sonically, Quique is an album that changed how I produce music. Massively influential. To date, I still reference whenever working in the studio, particularly the way Mark Clifford layers guitar parts to create blurry clouds of sound. I can best describe the sound as if you were sucked inside of a vacuum cleaner and spun around inside.

4. Cluster - Sowiesoso [Sky, 1976]

I refer to Sowiesoso as my "education". Sparse, warm, and completely timeless. An album released 44 years ago still sounds like it could have been made and released today. Two German dudes living in the countryside improvising with synthesizers are more impactful than entire orchestras. It influenced scores of people like Brian Eno and many more. Nuff said!

5. Panasonic - Kulma [Blast First, 1997]

The late great Mika Vainio was a massive inspiration to me. Kulma was the first Pan Sonic I ever heard (when they were called "Panasonic"). An old friend sold me this CD actually; he hated it. [He] probably thought it was "broken" and he unloaded it on me for one dollar. Joke's on him, as it pushed me in the direction that'd lead me to who I am musically today!

It completely changed how I viewed electronic music, how powerful saying little really is: the potency of minimalism, of space, of silence. I had the fortune of meeting and spending time with Mika (I brought him to Seattle in 2014 to perform at Substrata) and have so many great stories. He was a true innovator and someone we all whom he touched with his works dearly miss.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Music

Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.

Music

Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".

Music

Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.

Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.