Totakeke & Disharmony :: Double review (Tympanik Audio)

Totakeke’s latest release Digital Exorcist, his fifth on the label, resting squarely at your eleven-o-clock, and Disharmony’s sophomore album Room 78 so far over to the right you have to crane your neck against the bulky Virtual Light goggles to take it completely in.

totakeke-disharmony_dbl_featImagine sitting in a dingy Seoul internet cafe as the rain pounds down outside. You are jacked into a Gibson-esque cyberspace landscape, a neo-Cartesian grid in 1982’s lo-rez green CRT. Its parallaxed squares lay out infinitely in all directions. Posit Tympanik Audio’s sonic spectrum as a horizontal line on that grid, extending from left to right in the middle distance from your simulated point of view. The palette of digital trickery commonly labelled “IDM” dwells on your sinistral periphery, where Access to Arasaka resides in a flickering castle built of glitched-out soundscpaes. A line extends rightward to that cluster of harsher, darker sounds dubbed “post-industrial” on the dextral edge of your vision, into ESA and Comaduster’s gritty, potentially dangerous neighborhood.

With this visual metaphor fixed in your mind, picture Totakeke’s latest release Digital Exorcist, his fifth on the label, resting squarely at your eleven-o-clock, and Disharmony’s sophomore album Room 78 so far over to the right you have to crane your neck against the bulky Virtual Light goggles to take it completely in.

You tip your fist forward against the janky wires protruding from the jerry-rigged Nintendo PowerGlove on your right hand, zooming towards Totakeke’s cover art icon and causing the first audio track to start up on your headphones. The title track brings big wreck beats, originating in hip-hop but mutated and skewed to appease the drives of glitched-out millenials, coursing through your skull and jawbone. Flashes of a warehouse rave scene, VapoRub masks and blacklit fursuits, enter your consciousness as the aptly-named “Virtual Intelligence” reaches a fever pitch. You entirely immerse yourself in the aesthetic throughout the course of the album—”Where the Machine Begins,” the song cycle of “Digital Exorcism II” and “III,” “Victory Without Casualties”—it’s an expertly crafted audio capsule that fuses the latest in digital production techniques with breakdown-and-build song structures to deliver an ecstatic, yet strangely bloodless, virtual experience.

Fulfilled, pleased, yet retaining some veneer of jaded detachment, you pan out across the simulated plain towards Disharmony. This structure, while familiar on the surface, presents some challenges. It’s got dystopian film samples and sparkling tones generated entirely inside software synths, sure, but as you attempt to dig deeper, complications emerge. Lyrics in unfamiliar languages? Political commentary, as on “Blackhole,” juxtaposed against darkwave melodies? There are markers here which evoke the canon of EBM: FLA, the Zoth Ommog roster, the lurking presence of Skinny Puppy in the distorted scream-whispered vocals. But moments like the shimmering vocoder on “Under Control” threaten your pat assumptions of genre norms. Fractal complexity, depths beneath the surface. Fearing for your sanity and sense of self, you rip off the glove and electrode/goggle rig and return to reality.

“Just a couple of solid Tympanik albums,” you reassure yourself. “Nothing more.” With a moment’s hesitation and then a sudden, jerky lurch, you punch the power button on the rig and walk out hurriedly into the greasy rain.

Digital Exorcist and Room 78 are both available on Tympanik Audio.

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