Rapoon – The Fires Of The Borderlands [reissue]

[Reviewed by: Iaha Crax]

The lifetime work of Robin Storey can easily become the subject of an extended and captivating biography for the ambient music audience. He is now about 50 years old and has released over 50 albums under the name Rapoon. “The Fires of the Borderlands” came out in its known version in 1998 and is presently being re–released by Zoharum in a remastered version, accompanied by a bonus live disc.

After leaving his main project Zoviet*France, Robin Storey began experimenting with Rapoon in transcontinental meditative music, in terms of a fusion between oriental style and western post-avant-garde music (of Karheinz Stockhausen influence). Indian, Arabic or African sounds are being treated with loops and drones under an occidental perspective, approaching Storey to the likes of Steve Roach. There are many mentionable efforts preceding this record, like Vernal Crossing (1993), Fallen Gods (1994) and The Kirghiz Light (1995), where he fantasizes upon tribal, ethno-acoustic rhythms of different origins.

It is starting with this album that Rapoon orientated towards a meditative ambiance, preferring calm but intense frequencies to the former cadenced style. “Hollow Flight” imposes the nuances for this new approach, performing an evanescent space-ambient sound colored with alien choirs, which change very little during its development.

Storey’s use of drones has certainly inspired many of the present contributors to the scene. Take for example “Groundswell”, this menacing drift of shadow waves, favoring a mental tide of sweeping oblivion. “Cires Divam” samples a folk chant upon repetitive loops creating a mournful and dolorous site for hopeless pondering.

Dating so much back in time, there is a tendency to consider the record only by its documentary value; this would be a pedant, and even foolish mistake, as the sound is so modern compared to what we presently hear in the dark ambient scene, that we can easily ignore the date of apparition. “Snake of Earth” vibrates with a stimulating and fetid odour, feeding the enigmatic altars of Nordvargr or Megaptera; such is the vehemence of this industrial, smog-emanating humming. Likewise, “Omaneska” evolves from soft, harmonious drones (reminding me of “Closing the Eternity”) to glacial introspection, similar to that of Mathias Grassow.

Storey is known as a visual artist and animator with notable exhibition throughout the world, and so tracks like “Deserted Shadows” seem to have been composed after mentally visualizing the sound transformations: circled blinding noises are increasingly rotating until they become an indecipherable mass of sound.

The beautifully minimalistic “Looking… Not Finding” expresses in such simple terms the evocative capacity of Rapoon’s music. This enigmatic retentive drone, touched here and there by a fragile flute, and culminating in a cascade of swirling sound could be another “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune”.

When not contemplative or purely illustrative, the music can dangerously play with the mind, twisting and reversing planes or sensations like the “Circling Globes” track does. The surrealistic effect becomes more acute and effective when the environment for audition is properly chosen. “Talking To A Stick” functions on the same subconscious level, introducing a bewitching suspense by the use of playful, tricky loops.

A recurring theme for Storey seems to be his search to verbalize the stillness. This is the reason for his permanent manipulation of drones, which are mostly pertinent to suggest a middle way between violent and soft musical ambiance. “Still, So Still” engages in such an endeavor, as constantly repeating drone after drone finishes by imploding itself. And if stillness is not musically at hand (as silence is the tabula rasa of music), Rapoon manages to let us hear at least “A Softer Light”, more close to his ideal, a gracious movement of sound enveloping the mind back into the maternal womb from whence it came.

The disc is crowned with a 40-minute live recording for the San Francisco-based KFJC radio. Rapoon takes us further into nostalgia and obscure light with sensuality, finesse and mystery, to the realm where borderlands are burning with his visions.

RapoonThe Fires Of The Borderlands
Zoharum, ZOHAR 067-2
2xCD 2014

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