Black stars hang above and below Mima, piercing the black oblivion with their white light. Mima isn’t too far away in this black absence. The fizzing hiss, which alternates between the quiet and the deadly, is incredibly busy. Its incessant activity is a sight to see. A thousand demented flies buzz loudly. It could otherwise be interpreted as a fountain of cooling steam, the kind that used to spray the boosters of the NASA shuttle before its launch. In some ways, the first tentative minutes are a launch-pad, readying the listener with its relatively stable seat belts. The pilot says a quiet goodbye to the familiar. The steady ground disappears as the shuttle is thrust into the unknown. It’s a leap of faith that both the musician and the listener must take.
Under his Petrels alias, Oliver Barrett reaches for the stars and in so doing digs deep underground, into the chasms of the human psyche. What he finds is astonishing. A thousand myths and a thousand beliefs are uncovered, dusted off and left to dry in the light of the 21st century. Ancient rituals that once held significance lie in the dust, along with shaken beliefs that sit somewhere between the ‘twin poles of faith and uncertainty’. Barrett’s music thrives in the divide as it skitters between the two, clinging to its electronic belief in the face of adversity but nonetheless inquisitive over the future; the science and the supernatural co-habiting the music.
The early static that never goes away drops into the recesses of the mind like car keys down the drain. Barrett’s music draws on themes such as the space race, cosmology, witchcraft and the futuristic themes of science fiction, and all of these themes work their way into his music. ‘The 40 Year Mission to Titan is Overtaken by the 40 Minute Mission to Titan’ rockets through the labyrinth in search of its many mysteries. The grit of past trouble layers the thoughts with thick dust, the mind thriving on fear and uncertainty. Debris has collected, breaking into smaller pieces that jangle in the skull. The metallic clanks rattle and roll, firing danger shots and hissing violently, like a rattlesnake shaking its final warning.
The surging power of the harmony is a current of flowing electricity, a Catherine wheel of colour. There is never any kind of peace, even though the music bathes in the serenity of the starlight. On‘Katharina-22B’, distortion sprays the electronic notes with its rough sandpaper, but the radiant, sun-bright harmony jets out a brilliant beam of phosphorescent light. Contrasting the inner warmth is the fear of isolation and the prone tone of ‘A Carapace for Carter’s Snort’. An ice cold feeling attaches itself to the prospect of isolation, just as the cool touch of metal tingles against the human flesh, silver on skin. Notes seem destined to wander, lost to some unreachable void. The entering harmony helps to shield the single notes from the cold air, bringing hope, light and friendship. The harmony is a strong one, made all the more powerful because of its previous absence. The warmth that floods in is full of feeling – full of soul – and is something we as a species can resonate with; we connect strongly, magnetically, with music when we experience it on a deeper, emotional level. As a species, we are all familiar with the comfort of harmony; it instantly relieves the dissonant pressure.
A clanking machine coughs into life, desperately trying to recall its past. All is not well as the electronics squirm. But the skeleton remembers its system and its functions, reviving itself for one last flourish. Coda ‘Treetiger’ is the end of the journey, but the dawn will reveal a new discovery. The light drumming pushes the track into the abyss, closer to the stars. This is the climax, the radiant haven of white light where both fear and uncertainty are banished. Or so we think. Distant cries mask themselves as robotic shrieks, disrupting the calm. Someone – or something – has survived.