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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

Bart Hawkins Nonlinear Crossroads (2023)

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Maybe I got use to Bart's awesome modular synth art, but I found no difficulty in taming the dimensions of this opus

1 Telemachus and Eucharis 6:39

2 The Alchemist's Dream 10:17

3 Going Back in Time Moves You Forward 7:13

4 Message From a Distant Star 8:04

5 Vestal Virgins and Rebel Angels 8:59

6 Owls and the Exuberant Brilliance of Unity Makes me Smile 7:29

7 The Moon Tunnel 6:35

8 An Ancient Lullaby 7:33

9 The Unanswered Question Still Lingers On 8:50

10 Susanna at Sunset 7:09

(DDL/CD-(R) 78:52) (V.F.)

(Experimental ambient Drone)

Tinkling resonates through the lappings of noises. Then orchestrations build a silken corridor where sparkle glittering tones and whisper soulless voices. Telemachus and Eucharis slides between our ears in an endless waterfall where the walls groan with a thousand sonic artifices. We hear guitar verses. Harp chords tumble out vertiginously. There's a race between the synth and its sonic fantasies. It's a fair of composite tones that suddenly begin to twirl in a more musical direction, lightly shaken by spasms with no rhythmic direction. It was during a visit to the famous The Getty Center in Los Angeles that the musician-synthesist from Oregon found the inspiration to compose the 10 musical canvases that fill his debut album to be released on the Cyclical Dreams label. And contrary to what I've heard of Bart Hawkins' repertoire, I found no difficulty in taming the dimensions of NONLINEAR CROSSROADS. Maybe I've just got used to his style! Or perhaps this second opus in 2023, (the other being Entering the Axis Mundi, released in January on the Spotted Peccary Music label), follows in its footsteps. The same spasmodic rhythmic structures are to be found here, but with more muted outbursts. It's like a secret rhythmic code! The music travels with its thousands of twinkling little dots that connect in slow serenades shaken by spasms of non-rhythmic rhythms. It's a bit like observing infinite ripples shimmering on choppy water. Or like being magnetized by the sun's rays, which break down into prismatic reflections that dance across a window onto a waxed floor. It's with these images connected to my ears that I share my thoughts on this fascinating album, with its rhythmic dimensions smothered under a moiré pool.

The longest track on this opus, The Alchemist's Dream follows with a slow evolution from orchestral drones that spread purring, and later whistling, wings into a sonic dimension filled with tinkling and clashing sounds on a carpet of cadenced rustlings. This kind of tachycardiac rhythm gradually extends the ferocity of its convulsions into a more electronic ambience that is inspired by the old musical explorations of synthesizers, as orchestrations amplify their stranglehold over the ambiences. Kind of Martenot waves escape to ululate freely, like mechanical coyotes, while subtly the secret rhythm of The Alchemist's Dream unveils the path of its astral procession. Peaceful as it was, the track increases the level of intensity of the elements that make up its ambiences, while the rhythm, now conceived in the string riffs of a violin/cello ensemble, follows this tangent in NONLINEAR CROSSROADS by becoming more spasmodic. Even violent in a finale that deafens the eardrums. Going Back in Time Moves You Forward is the first track to offer a sequenced rhythm from its opening. The structure changes its texture, taking on the appearance of a bumpy train spitting exhaust fumes with difficulty, like a train in a cartoon. The rhythm evolves steadily within a minimalist framework that remains docile throughout its 7-minute length. The sound envelope is filled with streaks, little bits of evasive melodies that roll in loops and other tones drawn from complex orchestral arrangements. Message From a Distant Star is immediately seductive, with its ambient rhythmic structure flirting with tribal cerebral dance. The rhythm is based on muted sequenced beats. They dance in a galaxy that unravels from introductory orchestrations to fill its ceiling with the chants of stars and celestial twinkles. The finale gets fill of these late emotions that give a striking intensity in tones and sound images to NONLINEAR CROSSROADS' music. Orchestral arrangements are also floating in the opening of Vestal Virgins and Rebel Angels. Rustles, whispers and layers of hoarse violins accompany its blossoming, which translates into a secret source of rhythm that stirs with orchestral spasms. This finely convulsive backbone mirrors the album's other structures, with a beatless rhythm that hops about in place, framed as it is by a mass of sounds that twirls peacefully on its sedentary axis. The color of the sounds and their slightly garish texture reflect these different paintings on the subject. The last part of the track extends a good shimmering of sequences that compose a disconcerting astral air. This unexpected finale - one always expects an implosion of tenebrous intensity - sent shivers down my spine.

Shimmering chords are sparkling in the opening of Owls and the Exuberant Brilliance of Unity Makes me Smile. This dance of moiré prisms, hopping as much as trumpeting, attaches itself to a creeping movement of slow, vampiric bass texture. The synth lets in sharp pads that gambol with lustrous luminosity in a fascinating circular dance. Gradually, the rhythm becomes more fluid, with oscillations hobbling in a spiral that fills with the different echoes of the sound sources. The music and its idea burst forth with greater intensity from the 5th minute onwards, allowing the album's only moments of tangible cacophony to pass. A slight gap in 79 minutes of music! Not bad at all. The Moon Tunnel also grows from a web of lunar orchestration to develop a cadenced melody line that snakes through a mass of buzzing winds. Sharp striations, stardust grooves, howls and voices lost in drone effects compact this serpentine melody, which becomes more perceptible after the 3rd minute. Let's just say that the music and its moods are in symbiosis with the track title which ends in a heavy storm of woosshh. An elusive sensation of being transported to the heavens, An Ancient Lullaby offers a soaring ritornello that also fully breathes the meaning of its title. The orchestrations and fairy-tale arrangements, like the discreet voices towards the finale, are as effective as they are crucial in this circular procession that advances in a rather opaque mist over chords with acoustic tones, like harp strings, and a light sequencer support. The rhythm is tangible, yet delicate, like an old man gamboling and tracing 8s in slow motion across a field of moss. The sound envelope shimmers with a thousand prisms that dance and tightly enclose this astral lullaby, which gradually unravels into a spasmodic spiral. Splendid! We float between the dimensions of Michael Stearns' M'Ocean and Chronos. The Unanswered Question Still Lingers On let's hear another astral procession with a sequenced ritornello that is more harmonic than rhythmic. The mass of sounds is made up of drones, orchestrations and synthesizer effects that sketch out an apocalyptic universe. The further into the track you go, the more the rustling effects drown out the limpidity of the melody, which nonetheless remains anchored between your ears. Susanna at Sunset brings NONLINEAR CROSSROADS to a majestic close. The second track to offer a rhythmic structure, still more melodic than lively, from its very first chords, the music twirls as shimmering arpeggios swirl through nostalgia-filled orchestrations. The singing prisms undulate and chant a rhythm as light as dramatic in the staccatos of the chimerical violins. They have the lyrical color of Mike Oldfield's shimmering sequences on his album Incantations and, again and again, the poetic shimmer of M'Ocean. It's easy to imagine the rays of a sunset dancing on a white water still troubled by aquatic activities.

Yes, a very fine album from Bart Hawkins, on a par with his excellent Entering the Axis Mundi, though more reserved in terms of rhythms but more poetic in terms of moods and melodies.

Sylvain Lupari (July 19th, 2023) *****

Available on Cyclical Dreams Bandcamp

(NB: Texts in blue are links you can click on)

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