Photo: Maria Ley

Ricardo Donoso: Quintesence

Minus the visual component for which it was commissioned, Donoso's Quintesence EP could be one of the most stimulatingly spooky things you'll hear all year.
Ricardo Donoso

Taken on its own as a recording, Ricardo Donoso’s EP Quintesence is a remarkably striking 20-minute chunk of highly-manipulated musical noises. However, reading about the context for which this music was commissioned, you start to get an overwhelming oh-you-just-had-to-be-there impression.

Quintesence was commissioned by the Society for Arts and Technoloogy in Montreal to be presented in their Satosphere dome. Brazilian sound architect Ricardo Donoso and British installation artist Florence To co-created the multi-media experience after they discovered that they “shared a mutual interest in the psychological research in their work and wanted to further develop this as a thematic process in a live audio visual performance”. If you’re with me so far, Quintesence‘s online description gives the specifications of the dome in meters and the number of sound channels in use, as well as how the music and images tell “a story of how memory may be disorientated, distorted, and dysfunctional yet [act] as a linear process to individuation”.

I do not know what images are presented to viewers at this particular installation, nor do I know how the psychology of electronic music and visual art’s cross section relates to this whole thing. When the PR writer writes about the “purely natural world, uninterrupted by contemporary hurdles”, I really need to stifle a chuckle. Nothing about this music being piped into a dome through 39.4 channels comes across as “natural”, but if you allow yourself to disregard all of these arcane details, you’ll come to appreciate Quintesence as the perfect fit for the Denovali Records catalog that it is. Five tracks, all ending with the “phase” suffix, hang in a perfect balance so as to wipe your mind clean through each listen. The short length initially comes across as a letdown since 20 minutes isn’t nearly long enough to lure you into a drooling stupor as you sit on the couch watching The Wizard of Oz, but it’s certainly better than so much of the mediocre electronic music out there (which also lasts three times as long).

Donoso pulls the same trick on the first track that he does on the last track: he builds up an industrial rush by way of swarming fast-forwards and caps the resulting explosion with those same sounds grinding to a metallic halt. As “Interphase” glides along in all of its glorious unease, you know that Quintesence isn’t going to be just any ordinary ambient EP. Likewise, “Prophase” is the sound of things falling apart on one front, like scratches and clicks, while coalescing even further on another front, as with angelic pads and isolationist chord transitions. By the time “Metaphase” hits, nearly all the limbs and wheels are coming off in some beautifully orchestrated and twisted fashion. This is the moment in which you’ll catch one of your less-tolerant friends grousing that “this isn’t music!” But if throwing things at a canvas can be considered art, then “Metaphase” is certainly musical in its own strangely compelling way. Besides, the moment passes quickly, letting “Anaphase” lure you into the dungeon by way of dark ambience; it’s the EP’s lengthiest and most frightening track. Afterward, “Telophase”, after a while, gently returns us to our starting point.

With all due respect to Florence To, screw the art installation. I don’t need it. Through sound alone, Ricardo Donoso creates a mad world of foggy atmospheres, clanging metal, and wildly vivid colors all by himself. If Quintesence is better as an overall package deal, then superlatives just won’t do.

RATING 9 / 10
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