In the history of electronic music paying homage to our ideas of outer space, Porter has crafted a deserving addition to the canon.
Outer space is simultaneously fascinating and terrifying. It’s an endless expanse about which we know infinitesimal amounts, and the little we do know begets exponentially more questions than it answers. As such, it’s depressing that we’re aware that, as a vacuum, outer space is not conducive to sound. Yet despite this fact, its infinite unknowns have served as inspiration for some of electronic music’s bleakest soundscapes. On Roly Porter’s album Third Law, the producer creates his own universe worthy of the acclaim bestowed upon his fellow Tri Angle artists.
Sparse opener “4101” imagines itself as a lengthier sibling to the Haxan Cloak’s dramatic “Consumed” that began Excavation, beginning with near silence that slowly crescendos operatic vocals and flat synths in a spacious helix. A Fader interview reveals the song’s title to be a reference to the sci-fi novel Cities in Flight, where a probe with the titular number in its name is sent into outer space in, yes, 4101. Like any journey into deep space, the composition is at once uneventful and wholly compelling, with requisite minor glitches adding an acknowledgement that even in the future, technology still won’t be perfect.
Having a bit of a cinematic background via scoring a film, an apt comparison to the heaviest synth work on the album is the legendary THX Deep Note. Like in the Simpsons’ scene in which moviegoers are physically affected by the omnipotent noise, the minimal variance in pitch exhibited throughout long stretches of Third Law creates an arresting environment in which the journey reflects the expanses of nothingness in between the stunning wonders of the cosmos. And what wonders some of them are: on “Mass”, overlapping thumping basses roll under myriad instruments sounding like they’ve been placed in a cave, echoing and airy.
There are multiple famous third laws, and those of thermodynamics and Newton clearly find homes on Porter’s release. Regarding the former, it concerns itself with absolute zero. The universe itself is thought to be of a temperature close to absolute zero, and the little movement found, such as on “Blind Blackening”, has a slow crashing of multiple parts reminiscent of the limited movement at such temperatures. Even as that song ends, though, the music reverts back to relying on drawn-out ghost-like synths. An oddly familiar synth breaks through in the middle of “High Places”, one that evokes the opening notes of the Weeknd’s “Kiss Land”, but where the latter turns into an industrial journey into a drug- and sex-fueled lifestyle, the only height the former reaches is the uncountably millions of miles it is detached from Earth.
The second third law that’s applicable is that of Newton’s: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. With an album built upon a sheen of silence, it’s the few intrusions of targeted noise that have the greatest impact. “In Flight” breaks into a fluttering of brighter synths that play the role of the multitude of command buttons located on a spaceship coupled with percussion clangs implying the raucous beginnings of taking off. The final two tracks (“Departure Stage” and “Known Space”) play up the booming singularity found throughout, though none of this is to suggest that the intended monotony is remotely close to boring.
Instead, Roly Porter has tapped into one of humanity’s greatest desires: to know that which is outside of our world. His interpretation of a outer space trip condenses journeys that take light years into digestible minutes. You become aware of just how far he’s gone when the silences erupt into brilliant displays of sound, as if stumbling upon a supernova. In the history of electronic music paying homage to our ideas of outer space, Porter has crafted a deserving addition to the canon.