Alexander Berne & The Abandoned Orchestra: Flickers of Mime / Death of Memes

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Alexander Berne is a world unto himself. Although this double album nominally features him and “The Abandoned Orchestra,” the latter is no more—and no less—than an expansion of self through the art of multi-tracking. Emoting through a variety of wind instruments, piano, percussion, and electronic treatments, he crafts brooding soundscapes for the discerning ambient listener. But don’t let the word “ambient” fool you. This is music that burrows with its own bronze sheen into the darkest corners of the soul and by that light inscribes reams of verses from makeshift biological desks.

Flickers of Mime is in eleven parts and is one of Berne’s most focused atmospheres yet. There is a magical consistency at work in the near-continual drone of Flickers I through IV, bleeding through psychological lattice with the persistence of solitude. Flicker V, however, transgresses a different skin altogether with its persistent, swirling luminescence. And yet, it doesn’t mark a turning point so much as a turning, period—a metamorphosis, if you will, of the self into an alternate signature. Overtly classical inflections speak not of earthly art but of an intergalactic pigment, whereby the unknown becomes the only frame of reference. By Flicker VIII we are caught in the machinery of linearly bound time. The electro-acoustic blend of crunchy break beats and organic breath forge enough heat in their center to turn dark matter into diamond. The flock of piano and reeds that is Flicker X gives glimpse into every occlusion, while the unconsummated matrix of the final Flicker gives rise to sinking.

Death of Memes is in nine parts. Its title comes from poet Michael Bonine’s sonnet sequence “August 12th, 1996.” There is indeed a feeling of raw poetry in the more industrial textures at play. From an introduction I can only describe as “comatose grunge,” it compresses anarchy into a single drop of ink and unfurls its dragon’s tail in a glass of water. This far more contemplative collection of impressions feeds on nutrients of the forgotten, the left-behind, the ruinous. Like the early tape loops of William Basinski, it embraces the aesthetic of decay as the only path toward completion. The sounds here are less locatable, more of a piece with outer spaces than with inner logics. In Meme VI the architecture begins to vibrate so intensely that it bends to the limits of its structural integrity. The droning textures are filled with promise, leaving the piano to resurface in Meme VIII like a floating dream, so that only in the final hour can angels touch their own ears.

This is asylum in sound. Welcome to your hermitage.

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