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Thomas Watkiss – Ancestor II: Machine

Thomas Watkiss - Ancestor II: Machine

2CD, The Seventh Media, 2009

The second installment in a trilogy not yet complete, “Ancestor II: Machine” sees drone artist Thomas Watkiss closely following the themes laid down in “Phase I: Silence” (2008), but with darker purpose. With more than 100 minutes of music spread across two discs (the second, available with the deluxe edition, contains live recordings from sound gallery Lydgalleriet in Bergen, Norway), “Machine” moves away from the pastoral inclinations of “Silence” and instead embraces a more forsaken, industrial aesthetic. Like previous Watkiss releases, “Machine” emphasizes its connection with the visual world, and with it, the sublime. The photographic artwork included in this two-disc release is stark, confronting and meditative – not unlike the music itself.
Watkiss continues to excel at patterns of fluctuating drones, rising and falling tones that dominate a complex layering of stretched, modulated sounds and interminable depth. Like a pendulum articulating the infinitesimal movement of time, the droning moves in continual flux, beginning with “Through Godless Abandon”. As with the trilogy’s first installment, there remains a tenuous thread binding these dark ambient mechanizations to the organic world. Bestial sounds lurk under the flowing expanses in the aforementioned first track, and are noticed recurring toward the end of the second, the subdued and static-filled “System of Numbers”. In a telling juxtaposition of the wonder and terror of our industrialized world, organic sounds are also heard bleeding through the well-oiled machine drones of “The Iron Wheel”. The context expands further with “When Slaves Awaken”, which centers on a cyclical somber/assertive dynamic.
“Machine” recognizes the hegemony of mass production, and even celebrates the bleak beauty of abandoned factory wastelands, yet still holds a note of hopefulness for the resilience of nature. “Born From These Fields” promises the return of warmth and life following the stone-grinding retreat of the ice sheets (ghostly birds, portents of past/future, are faintly heard at its end), while in “Our Vehement Sun” the drone swells, buoyed by the taut static underneath, crackle with untold life-giving solar energies. But then “Machine : Breathe”, with its orchestral depth and slow-churning, scraping insistence, reminds of the willful imitation of ecological systems through technology; an apt harbinger of the closing “Machine : Decease”, wherein windy tones and micro-movements of background sounds frame chilling propaganda, a radio announcement repeating “Production must go on if we are to win”.
The exceptional live disc contains two tracks (16:30 and 28 minutes) wherein length allows a progression of various movements. “Set 1” is quiet and subdued, with minimal sound modulations. It contains a gradual development of high-pitched sounds, while buried sub-bass layers ominously rumble like distant giants. The start of “Set 2” presents monstrous washes of sound, cresting and percolating in frothy waves of electronic dissonance. Through the middle it quiets to resonant, humming tones of delicate beauty punctuated by dark fairytale voices and bubbling microcosms, then a torpid resurgence of drones naturally follows, again reaching crescendo intensities before falling away. The final movement mixes spacey drones with gut-shaking bass pulses, evoking nothing less than the planetary motions themselves. Watkiss has created a soundtrack that, although inspired by our own insignificant and troubled existence, awakens the awesome immensity of the void which surrounds us.


— Dutton Hauhart

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