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Akira Rabelais - Caduceus

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Artist: Akira Rabelais

Album: Caduceus

Label: Samadhi Sound

Review date: Jan. 3, 2011

As a recording, Caduceus is an engrossing experience. Processing and filtering his guitar with Argeïphontes Lyre -- his own set of audio, video and text filters -- Rabelais splinters and distorts the inherent instability and wildness of the electric guitar into exotic, fascinating shapes, then arranges those shapes into satisfying compositional arcs.

These pieces are much more than layered collections of guitar tracks, static and AM radio grabs; they’re the end result of a highly individual process of synthesis. Each of the 13 tracks here displays a deep understanding of dynamics, going beyond a more simplistic quiet/load dichotomy -- there’s real tension here. The louder, static-saturated passages are underpinned by subtle harmonic movement or pushed around the stereo field, giving new perspectives on what otherwise might be oblique blocks of sound. Meanwhile, the quieter parts highlight the danger that comes with fragility, the fear that something could break at any moment, as chiming, plucked notes threaten to disintegrate or expand.

Rabelais is unafraid to let moments of nearly unfiltered acoustic guitar emerge from the noise, and there’s a keen sense of theme throughout, if not outright melody. Rabelais finds ways to overwhelm with volume, density and harsh textures while at the same time lulling and soothing you with sensuous atmospherics. He’s found a way to scream and whisper at the same time.

But it’s as an album that Caduceus becomes problematic. By album I mean when you look at it as a whole: titles of pieces, the accompanying images and, to some extent, the presence (or non-presence) of Rabelais himself. His website is a cryptic collection of ideas and texts: the Oxford English Dictionary entry for the word love, the I-Ching, poetry fragments that link to other poems, colorful images detailing a kind of enigmatic domesticity and more. And it’s just this kind of enigma that haunts Caduceus. That’s probably how Rabelais intended it, to make listeners wrestle with a web of ideas and emotions, but it’s also what weighs the whole down. You get caught up in decoding it, in wondering if there’s a symbol or metaphor or some specific meaning hiding in it. When the music is this strong, all of these extra-curricular semiotics just distract. Rabelais’ musical ideas are deep enough and well-developed enough to provoke thought and evoke powerful images on their own.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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