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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

Transponder Starmaps- Vol. 1 (2022)

Updated: Nov 11, 2022

An album that has one foot in the vintage years and the other in the contemporary ones

1 Eos 6:48

2 Biome 6:56

3 The Last Sunrise 5:46

4 Starlane 8:02

5 Running Binary Nightside 7:39

6 Empire's End 7:24

7 Sandtreader 6:34

8 Radiance Remains 8:12

(DDL 57:22) (V.F.)

(New Berlin School, Ambient beats)

A rising synth wave brings Eos to the edge of a dramatic precipice. For that matter, a synthesized lament extends its texture that resonates with a more ochre than iridescent tint. A form of cybernetic lament! The universe of STARMAPS-Vol 1 is filled with these waves, these plaintive lines which give a hint of melancholy to the panoply of rhythms which make beat the majority of its titles. Here, the rhythm is delicate. It jumps with a form of controlled feverishness, waiting for this shadow of the pulsing bass-line which will serve its double identity. Bringing thus depth and accentuating a bit its velocity. But the whole remains this marvellous ambient rhythm which resounds calmly of its jumps from which the resonance weaves a rubbery link. Another shadow invites itself. This time, it mumbles as much as hops in order to merge rhythm and melody in the last axis of Eos whose ambiences shiver when keyboard riffs fall towards its finale. Eos is the gateway to a very nice Transponder album, one of the few projects on the Synphaera label to produce sequencer-based electronic music (EM) in the vein of Berlin School style. Its more contemporary musical environment is more conducive to the New Berlin School with a sound and musical aesthetic that meets the criteria of modern cinematic music. STARMAPS-Vol 1 is precisely a collection of tracks that espouse the conditions of science fiction music with a distant vision of off-world colony life, the last sunrise of a solar system and the fall of a galactic empire. This mise en scène without images by Steve Pierce, Extraworld, and Don Tyler, Remote Vision, is put at the disposal of our imagination in a work of musical science-fiction composed of 8 tracks with ambiences filled with mixed waves, some of which are downright neurasthenic, and rhythms sometimes ambient and at other times untamed. In short, cinema in music at the height of the expectations that our ears have with regard to the quality of the American label.

The rhythms are not all docile! If the opening of Biome breathes that of Eos with these resonant synth waves, keyboard riffs terrorize the ears with their Dantesque sound expanses. The rhythm develops under these rays with a sequencer line that stretches in long random zigzags. A pulsing bass-line injects a more resonant aura that goes hand in hand with those synth riffs that never stop raining, as well as cooing that roll in harmonious loops. From fluid and undulating, the rhythm takes on a more jerky form when organic sequences, sounding like a belly full of gurgles, are grafted on towards the middle of the track. To this point, it's good to know that each track in STARMAPS-Vol 1 metamorphoses when it reaches its halfway point. It beats with more vigor and echoes curtly, sounding like an intergalactic tribe's rhythm, even adding a line of cadenced dialogue under an alloy of synth waves with long, mumbling breaths. Woven over the interweaving of more than one rhythm line, The Last Sunrise tinkles its jumping keys over a rubbery pulsating beat with a line of sequences that come and go in a half-circular structure. The main movement of the sequencer recalls of Chris Franke's structures in Tangerine Dream. Souvenir of rhythms that we notice quite often in this new Transponder album. The track develops its rhythm structure by constantly adding ingredients and effects, like these resonant organic effects, on a structure that becomes more fluid in a spectral vision organized from good synth chants in an environment of paranormal activities. We move forward to Starlane and its opening structured around keyboard chords that elaborate an alien dialect. They radiate a sound wave tinted with a cerulean blue, shimmering a multitude of iridescent lines and discrete soulful laments. It is a series of 7 beats, at variable speed, that sets the rhythm. The synths moan again and again on the resonance effect of the rhythm where a line of jinglings is grafted like in a jazz exercise for apprentice drummers. The sequencer brings out a line of contracted arpeggios that convulse in a spasmodic texture. The rattles become symbiotic with a bass line, and the two elements restructure the rhythm into an aerospace racing momentum. As the keyboards drop dramatically resonant chords, a line of cadenced chirps complete the structure of this Starlane's evolving rhythm.

Running Binary Nightside plunges us into a world of electronic stridulations from which escapes a circular and harmonic rhythmic structure with arpeggios bouncing in a membrane of uncertainty, of delicacy. The second part of the track explores a more vivid and complex rhythmic structure with a series of sequences that flicker as they flow briskly from a sequencer hole under droning synth waves that make gyratory turns. Rhythm for the neurons and the ears! Empire's End is the first track to propose an atmospheric approach without rhythm, except for these arpeggios in half tones which gambol in a state of weightlessness. Rays of drones sweep the horizons of the track, then the gambit of the arpeggios accentuate the cadence without ever succeeding in a rhythmic takeoff. Radiant and radioactive percussive effects throw metallic felts to this rather bewitching rhythm. Ambiences are heavy, with nebulous chords and drone bursts, depicting the sadness of watching an empire fall. Sandtreader follows with creepy, almost amphibious pulses, whose organic texture radiates a mass of radioactive sounds. This creates a heavy, resonant atmosphere under which a rhythmic structure is articulated that gambols like that of Eos before a series of aerial beats add a little more velocity under these heavy organic hums. These two rhythm lines coexist in a bouncy vision until percussive effects, banging on metal sheets here, intrude in the second half of the track. There are reminiscences of TD here in the tone of the synths that make circular rounds, like the eye of a flashing light watching the sand walkers. Radiance Remains is the second atmospheric track on STARMAPS-Vol 1. Synth waves take on different textures and sonic visions above a faint rhythmic glow that pulses like life escaping from a soul.

STARMAPS-Vol 1 is another solid Transponder album. Without being its equal, because its musical context is quite different, it is as good as this Astral Expanse which was one of the very nice albums to be released from Synphaera in 2021. Good for the ears that I recommend wrapped up in headphones in order to grasp all the nuances of an album that has one foot in the vintage years and the other in the contemporaneity of the EM proposed from this label. Can't wait to hear a second volume!

Sylvain Lupari (November 7th, 2022) ****½*

Available at Synphaera Bandcamp

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

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