In the sonic landscape of experimental music, we are often indulged with plenty of rhythms, harmonies, textural layers, and sonically explorative pathways that leave us almost fatigued by the sheer number of sounds spread across a vast musical landscape like the ever-expanding vacuum of the universe. That being said, it always feels quite exciting and intriguing when you’re to discover something amongst this deep sea of sonic hypnosis. Hypnodrone Ensemble were formed in Berlin back in 2014 by Canadian guitarists Aiden Baker (Nadja) and Eric Quach (Thisquietarmy), joined by drummers David Dunnett, Jérémie Mortier, and Felipe Salazar the ensemble have evolved and changed line ups multiple times whilst being a quintet at its core.
Musically speaking, Hypnodrone Ensemble create often very challenging and hypnotically conscious sounds that absorb elements of drone, ambient, and psychedelia on its surface and take these stylistic components to formulate experiments using a free-form, semi-improvisational musical approach. A self-titled debut in 2014 was followed by several other releases including 2015’s The Shape of Space and 2020’s Get Polyamorous, this also consisted of several line up expansions and collaborative leanings with other experimental artists having long-stretched tracks that precede 20, 30, to even 40 minutes at a time. 2023 now features Hypnodrone Ensemble going in an interesting and unusually wonderous direction with the March release of The Signal in the Signal.
This record certainly sees Baker and Quach seeking to introduce more instrumentation with the purpose of thickening each of these sonic layers that make up the psyche-infused essence of the two musical pieces on this record. Their guitar FX are a central component to the sound as per usual as is the additional layer of bass, utilised by Baker, however the wildly inarticulate use of saxophone by Baker does accompany moments of density and controlled madness within the soundscape, as does the addition on the dwelling whine of the viola, utilised by accompanying musician Kristin Sebastian, that creates a sense of illusion and subconsciously nuanced variety.
Beginning then with the first track “The Signal”, a 30-minute piece that commences with a minimalistic drum pattern to prepare the listener early on whilst the droning sound of these orchestral instruments build some atmosphere and harvest momentum striving towards a sonic ocean of hypnosis. Baker’s bass tracking is another crucial layer to the sound as it progresses, this appears vital in absorbing much of mysterious ambiences and building a foundation that can be expanded on with more transcendent sounds later on. The track remains fairly minimalist rhythmically, yet it pushes with these sordid and busy textures that mimic moments of apprehension through walls of controlled feedback, timbral and dynamic shifts that start off relatively soft and then suddenly much harsher by nature, and stutters of digitised sound signals that gesture to its audience like an encrypted dispatch hidden within the soundscape. The final period of the piece starts entering further into this cataclysmic void that radiates density and pressure, this is achieved through a heavier reliance on guitar feedback and dissonant utilisations of the orchestral instruments to create a sky of harsh confusion and transcendental madness.
In a climactic fashion, these dissonant sounds from Hypnodrone Ensemble build up over the last few minutes of the first track and swiftly merge into the second track “In The Signal”, perhaps to indicate a new sonic realm has been constituted and by listening we have unlocked a new dimension to this musically challenging performance. This track by contrast is by far more intense and at this point we’re in the midst of the artist’s improvisational peak with much complexity being imbued from the music’s rhythmic drive, the layered flow of feedback, and the buzzing drones at the low end that all evolved and develop their own ideas and concepts. The more this track proceeds, the more nuanced the music seems to get, it’s as if the artists intend to code out certain facets of noise with particular stylistic traits that begin to resemble voices, distant melodies, and drone patterns. By the time the musicians are feeling that the final moments of the piece are calling, you get some kind of indication that they’re looking to round things off subtly and with excellent communicative musicianship, the drums are more free from time and signal a climax to the other performers, whilst each layer of feedback and noise timely drops out stripping the piece back until the listener feels a sense of alertness and external conscious thought that they had forfeited for an hour in place of alluring hypnosis.
Evidently, this is a project that does more than just experiment with various sounds and ideas, Hypnodrone Ensemble aims to challenge the notion of experimental music, to push it beyond its capabilities in the pursuit of discovering new sonic dimensions. The freely imposed approached to this record, as with much of the ensemble’s other works, is what allows these talented and progressively-minded musicians to identify these sonic pathways within a trance-like maelstrom of auditory visions that employ improvisational methods to performance in order to attain them.