There’s a bizarre passage in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? in which the protagonist, bounty hunter Rick Deckard, finds himself climbing a hill and being hit by falling rocks. The situation is eerily similar to the eternally re-enacted martyrdom of Wilbur Mercer, the central figure in the book’s virtual reality-based religion. The description of Deckard’s experience delineates an austere existential intensity bordering on ecstasy, a burning vision of madness and dread. There’s no relationship that I know of between Dick’s novels and the photographs of Renato D’Agostin, save that one of the latter, which graces the sleeve of D’Agostin’s collaboration with composer and musician Scott Worthington, happens to remind me of Mercerism’s communal virtual re-enactments of ecstatic martyrdom, and Deckard’s ‘real-life’ simulacrum of it. This quite frankly random association has coloured my hearing of Worthington’s music for the project.
That music consists, in the first instance, of long, sonorous double bass tones, joined by quiet continuous chords that twitch anxiously, and rough hissing that fades in and out. Then it’s vague, ambiguous tones, amorphous in pitch and texture, yet still somehow sonorous, slowly changing while refusing to congeal into anything definite. For me, however, it’s the third track that proves to be the album’s highlight: a twenty-minute solo electric bass piece! What a rare delight! It’s all steady pacing, one foot in front of the other, roaming all over the instrument’s pitch range, from low thump to harmonic ping, subdued but not hesitant. A little bit of reverb around the notes, leaving them hanging like stars above Deckard’s head. Then, the ascent: from the depths to the heights in four notes, repeated several times, and then repeated again and again in various modified forms, a desert mantra. Two chords, repeated; the space between each repetition is utterly, utterly black.
In my mind I keep returning to Dick’s account of Deckard’s mystical hill-climbing experience. I find an intense austereness, an extreme reductionism, in the music that has graced other work by Worthington, particularly his long-form piece ‘Even The Light Itself Falls’; on “Orbit”, and specifically in the electric bass piece, this quality is expressed more clearly and subtly than I’ve heard before. Yet this reduction never fails to be anything less than enthralling and, yes, verging on the ecstatic. I’m not sure whether the impact would’ve been the same if the music had been written for a more common solo instrument, such as piano or violin.
“Orbit” comprises both a book of photos and an album, created in dialogue between the D’Agostin and Worthington. Other than the image used for the vinyl sleeve, I listened to the music without reference to D’Agostin’s half of the project; had I been able to experience both sides of the collaboration, I may have come away with a very different impression. Watching the video showing every page from the book, however, demonstrates plainly enough that the photographs often feature a reduction of tone and form that echoes both the music and, however distantly, Dick’s stark wilderness. Experiencing both halves of “Orbit” together is probably the best way to enjoy this finely produced and thoughtfully curated project.[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/399029433″ params=”color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Image by Renato D’Agostin