Koen Holtkamp – Voice Model

Voice Model’s bright décor is like that of an American ice cream parlour in the late fifties. The opening modular synth produces a cherry-coloured and exceptionally yummy tone, and as it lengthens it slowly swirls into a long, glowing drone that drips out a creamy, calorie-free sound. Voice Model is a free spirit. Delightful, dynamic stripes are painted along the walls of the synth, offering a sharp contrast and a charming experience. Uninterrupted notes gently rise on a sparkling fountain. On the other side of the parlour, a dazzling chrome jukebox takes pride of place, but instead of playing a selection of surf and vintage pop, it plays abstract electronic music. Shiny stools surround the bar; you can really sink into these seats. While you’re in here, you can just imagine the sharp clanks of the china cups and the steady whoosh of the coffee maker.

The drone has an innocent side, but it isn’t one hundred percent naïve. As it progresses, it shuffles along, shouldering some kind of weight. Gravity is holding it hostage. The darker side of the music cuts into the optimistic ambient layers, peeling away at its smooth scoops. In the early stages, the music’s missing a stable rhythm. Because of this, finding your way can be a struggle, but on the other hand it’s also an opportunity for the music to really shine. The notes waterfall downwards. As soon as the piano enters, the rhythmic discrepancies disappear and we finally get our bearings. It builds almost imperceptibly until it reaches a glowing climax. Rapid piano notes sparkle under the dazzling glare of the sun as it slants into the room, casting prisms of vanilla light as it hits the silver bar.

A series of lower electronic notes converge and hover just below the synth, and they’re as dark as chocolate as they sprinkle the music, steaming everything up like a mug of fresh coffee. This isn’t a plastic, mass produced coffee cup from a branded corporation. This is a proper mug; the music in this place radiates quality. The music picks up speed, gradually amassing a tome of tones. The music snowballs. What starts with a single note ends in an avalanche of sound. Static starts to bite with its venomous fangs, digging into the heaven-sent synth with a vampiric finesse. It fizzles like Pepsi and slowly decays the innocence of the music, which only just holds onto its harmonies.

The album also features piano (played by Holtkamp), flute (Nina Mehta) and trumpet (Josh Millrod), although they don’t initially appear. Everything comes together, although it’s hard to say if the movements are intentional. You get the feeling that these are chance encounters, sounds that have been left to meet, greet and interact with one another while an invisible presence looks on. “Scene II” continues this social experiment. The music speeds past in the rush hour; the red, orange and amber lights going bumper to bumper with a blockade of notes. It’s a sweet paradox, because even in the chaos, the notes are able to whiz past at quite a lick. If anything, “Scene II” has a split personality, because things calm down quite quickly. The congestion eases and a clearing emerges – the deadlock is wiped away by the clear sound of a tiny bell and the vehicles vanish. A spacious place emerges, imprinting itself around the corners of the field of vision. We’re above and below.

A creature of the deep emits a call, beaming signals through echolocation. As the trumpet emerges, some jazz-flecked elements are brought forth, and as they come closer the notes lose their clarity. It becomes a cloudier set, but with clear, meditative intentions, encompassing the notes in a spectral, otherworldly fog. Listeners may be aware that Koen Holtkamp is one half of Mountains. While this has gestated (it was recorded in 2014 and 2015), the album is deserving of the same attention. Voice Model’s on the brink of a new age paradise, but it never quite steps through. The spirals and shapes are glorious as they surge and swirl, but then it disappears; the ice cream has melted on the tongue.

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