Pulse Emitter’s latest album of vintage synth experiments might seem like a bit of an odd fit for Immune Recordings, a label that has released albums by Tiago Sousa, Simon Scott and Tape, all minimal and frequently acoustic. But, Crater Lake is both much more restrained in its texture and more natural in its analogue sounds and free-flowing forms than the German synth-pioneers to which it is partly indebted and, to be fair, Immune have never been particularly single-minded in their catalogue. More importantly, Crater Lake contains a similar sense of place that has anchored the works of those aforementioned artists.
The album is supposedly inspired by the titular body of water in Oregon and simultaneous musings on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. The latter is easier to hear. Pulse Emitter’s music is nothing if not celestial. The unearthly gleam of “Europa” makes every beep and pop of the synthesiser shine like a star twinkling into life; its aimless, through-composed structure implies a vast, empty expanse where steady repetition and only gradual development are the natural order. The first note strains up and up like it’s ready to take off, leading you straight above the atmosphere. Even the more brittle, staccato patterns at the end of the piece feel more like the ice of the eponymous moon than anything closer to home. It’s not impossible to relate these sounds to the clear, crystalline waters of Crater Lake itself, but the effort is a deliberate one.
This trend continues into what should be the album’s more worldly sounds. The steel pan-like synths of “Titan” are one of the few instances where Crater Lake seems to mimic the sounds of acoustic instruments, although they are endearingly far from the real thing; they would be cheesy if they weren’t so bare. Yet they are so divorced from their usual setting – completely lacking in festivity and playing drawn out notes in a slow rhythm – that any familiarity they might have had is lost to an uncanny, liminal space that is neither spacey nor earthy.
Such moments are where the album is at its best, and most conceptually solid. “Io” removes the higher pitched, smoothest tones for much of its duration, bubbling away volcanically in the depths. This allows some of sharper edges of the music to come forward, and at the end of the piece when the top and low ends combine it is genuinely frightening, the more aggressive and jagged tones forming a landscape both alien and disturbingly earthly.
In the end, however, it doesn’t really matter that Crater Lake only fully conjures its dual inspiration occasionally. The sparseness and shimmer of “Europa” and “Enceladus” are striking enough on their own terms. And inspiration need not make any claim to accurate representation; Crater Lake is speculation and imagination, which Pulse Emitter appears to have in abundance.