REVIEW: Perpetual Ocean - "Houdini"

By Marcus Pan

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HoudiniSuperbly moving and wonderfully melodic, Perpetual Ocean's Houdini is a piece of art in sound. Creating an atmospheric plunge into various soundscapes, or "musicscapes" as the group calls them instead, the work of Peter Miller from previous releases such as Violet Flame has grown and matured greatly. Violet Flame, for example, was very minimal with an eye towards simplicity in form. Perpetual Ocean's Houdini, adds in much more complication to the mix, creating an ambient structure that is breathtaking with nuances weaved into the work and the inclusion of analog instruments as well as Miller's synthetic atmospheres.

Opening with subtlety, Lament is an experiment in rhythms with awkward beats wrapped around by the vocal ahs of Bek-Jean Stewart. It's a slow moving piece, with percussive hits building to open up the listener's mind. Another highlight track to the album is the bass-laden reverberations of Float. With bright melodies joined by sudden infusions of toy piano noodlings, vocals by Robyne Dunn are lyrically prolific and fade beautifully into melodic junctures. Also infused with Gregorian chants used with ominous overtones and to more affect than ever I heard, Float is over seven minutes in length and not once do you find yourself being dragged along. True to the name of the track, Float slowly settles down comfortably and segues into the windy openings of On Ghost Dog Ridge. Guitar renderings by Steph Miller combined with Peter's windy atmospheric creations provides a great non-lyrical break between Float and The Mariner's Chart.

One of two favorites here, The Mariner's Chart from track 10 has the longest list of contributing musicians than the other tracks on Houdini. And as such has become precisely five minutes of eye-closing, introspective beauty. The female vocals hold on a higher level than the rest of the music, giving Bek-Jean a godly approach and feel. Collaborators here include the winds of Rixon Thomas, strings of Phillip Hartl and Adrian Wallis and percussion/bass of Kees Boersma. Breaks in the track provide solos for many of them before stepping briskly into complicated rhythms again. Excellent arrangements by Peter Miller and Christopher Gordon.

I mentioned that The Mariner's Chart is "one of two" favorites. The second is track 3, Radio Egypt. Twice on Houdini Miller experiments with a Burroughesque cut-up style, using vocal incantations from, in this case, Trawets Naej Keb. Peter takes the voices, mixes them together, cuts them up and reassembles them into a new form, combining it with bright bell-like melodies and swift Arabian-style rhythms. Keyboard chords reside below and uphold the vocals. In the end, Radio Egypt has become something different than it was when the journey began, just barely intelligible but somehow prophetic.

The other track on which Peter manipulates vocals in this style is Incantation, this time using Apple Computer's Victoria from their Plain Talk software. Multiple recordings of Victoria reciting various mathematical and scientific formula pieces surrounded by ominous bass heavy rhythms and windy strikes provide a strange and unusual experience. While it's not something that you're likely to dance to, it is not something you're quick to forget either - Victoria's voice oozes through you in a ghostly manner, greatly increased by the dark and moody arrangement.

Rife with experimentation, complication and rather different arrangement-wise than Peter Miller's earlier work, Houdini by Perpetual Ocean is a great work. Miller is unafraid to test the boundaries of commercialism and push the envelope of experimentation, creating a mixture of trance, ambient and electronica in a mad scientist style. He joins the ranks with others of the genre such as Autechre, Holger Czukay, Anima Sound System and Apocrypho - to name only a few to give some of you an idea of style.

Post: Perpetual Ocean, 14 Charles St., Redfem, NSW, 2016, Australia
Phone: (61-2) 9310 4544
Fax: (61-2) 9310 3035

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