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by Ali Hibbs on January 30, 2014



The modular synthesizer is something of a paradox. To the layperson, it can seem like an inscrutable tangle of patch cords spilling out of a soulless rack of machinery, more switchboard than musical instrument. Get a synth artist like Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe talking about his rig and it’s all oscillators, sequencers and signal flow. Lowe was kind enough to deliver an impromptu lecture on his personally configured deck to a gaggle of neck craners after his performance with projection artist Sabrina Ratté Saturday night. But the synth professor was only the nuts-and-bolts half of the synth performer, whose eyes occasionally rolled back in his head as he explored the instrument’s “unlimited potential.”

Indeed, infinity is a central concept to analog synthesis, so it’s not surprising that Lowe comes off as something of a tech mystic. The name and theme of the pair’s collaboration was Peradam, a term drawn from René Daumal’s 1952 allegorical fantasy novel Mount Analogue, taken to mean “an object that is revealed only to those who seek it.” As Lowe sought “a consistent equilibrium between the peak and valley of a sound wave” with his signal-generating infinity machine, Ratté slowly assembled and demolished archetypal shapes and colors, approximating Daumal’s mythic mountain without ever fully rendering or surmounting it.

Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe

Taking his seat below an overhead triptych of projection surfaces, Lowe moved with the deliberate grace of a tai chi practitioner, slowly stirring a patient drone around the room’s quadrophonic speakers between sips of tea. A glowing orb quivered overhead and eventually spilled a volume of red and blue light when Lowe began to pierce the canvas with his voice. Alternating between angelic falsetto and Tuvan sturm und drang, Lowe unconsciously twirled his fingers and pumped his feet as the swelling waves of voice, gong samples and sawtooth waves urged the images toward greater complexity. It’s possible that Ratté’s projections used Lowe’s signal in the way an oscilloscope illustrates sound but her embellishments felt consistently fluid and organic, even when triangular mountain motifs began to appear and assemble.

Too often performances of this nature tend to favor left-brain expressions of the artists’ technical aptitude, and there were moments, especially in the sequence-heavy middle section, where the work threatened to revert to the mechanical gridwork we often associate with electronic music. Instead, Lowe rode his oscilators deeper into abstraction and Ratté melted her forms down to a molten essence. It’s a testament to Peradam that both performers stayed true to their project’s namesake, scrapping a reliable and predictable map on their quest toward that transcendent object of desire and creation.