“Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording” reviewed by Gonzo Circus


The modular synthesizer has always been a remarkable instrument: a huge panel of boxes with knobs and sliders, with components that can be replaced, converted and connected at will. I would imagine that playing such a machine is quite similar to steering a space ship, and that compulsive players of flight simulation games must have developed a great skill in operating this instrument. If I remember correctly Jos Smolders used to play these games with great zeal. That would explain his natural feeling for the modular synthesizer evidenced by his most recent album Nowhere. He toys around with various aspects of sound, as if they were pigments, and excessively flexible building materials. He kneads and paints, creates shifting shapes and colors. The album starts with irregular dry clicking sounds that bottom out and become evermore rosy-cheeked. And almost unnoticed they form melodic patterns that pop into your ears like constellations. Until the moment that Smolders covers them up with a softly pulsating whistle, and makes the clicks disappear with the masterly flick of a magician’s wrist, and an agitated voice calls out, tinny as if from a tannoy. That breaks off suddenly to be replaced by a criss-cross of glowing trails, a soft grating noise and tiny ticks that emerge on the left and right limits of your hearing range, while distorted dialog rises and subsides. In like manner each track on this album presents its own composite of shapes and colors, and sounds. A train arriving at a railway station in a cloud of hiss that has grown out of the wheeze of a panting, growling dog. A pack of slogging huskies, disappearing in a zooming tube. But also sublimated pastel sounds of an almost unbearable clarity, brushing basses. This is music of an abstract beauty, with entrancing movements and an apparently familiar vista every now and then. Rene van Peer

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