Akira Rabelais – Caduceus


Caduceus marks the bewitching return of Akira Rabelais, the American whose magnificent name simultaneously tilts its hat toward the deep past of the French Renaissance and post-apocalyptic manga Tokyo. It has been some time since we last made his acquaintance, six years since Spellewauerynsherde. In the interval there have been occasional field recordings – Hollywood and A.M. Station – but Caduceus convinces as Spellewauerynsherde’s dark sister.

There’s something both shadowy and playful about Rabelais’ presence. Wikipedia offers up almost nothing except “… a Los Angeles-based composer and author, who grew up on a racehorse ranch in South Texas and studied at…” and that his music “… bridges classical romanticism and digital composition.” This fittingly tempts the listener to project Rabelais into the burnt and warped faces of Caduceus’ photographs by Eric Rondepierre.

Rabelais first shimmered on the horizon with Argeïphontes Lyre, quixotic software for teasing otherwise innocent sound samples into uneasy forms. If memory serves, it was as beautiful and wilful as the website it appeared on. Both Lyre and its domain persist to this day, different but essentially the same. The homepage bears a lengthy list that dances back and forth across the centuries referencing Peake, Durrell, Keats and a hundred other less familiar names. Hyperlinks convey the visitor to long columns of figures, excerpts of Borges short stories, Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles. It’s a beautifully presented puzzle, a lattice-work of references and literary cul-de-sacs that thankfully refuses anything as tiresome as an explanation.

Reference to our modern-day oracle reveals that Caduceus was the staff borne by Iris, messenger of the gods and their link to humanity in Greek mythology. Perhaps the staff has transmuted into Rabelais’ guitar. If so, the message is gnomic, eaten away by rust in the long and uncertain transit. The listener waits in an anteroom between two states, straining to identify sounds heard at great distances. The space s/he stands in is as polluted as Tarkovsky’s Zone, as rubble-strewn, degraded as its anterior.

Caduceus opens with Seduced By The Silence, a thrilling roar of falling scree-like feedback, ploughed and phased as though a foundry were being dismantled using stop-motion photographic techniques. On The Little In-Betweens is its virginal 15 second sibling, timid and gently pensive. Then The Substanceless Blue conjours brilliant, billowing cloud-forms that dip into vivid distortion and lift into sun-warmed azure. Night Dances Through Heaven’s Black Amnesia excoriates with blissful distortion, a dyspeptic anti-cure for the terminally melancholic, a treatment perhaps to scour the soul. Comme Un Ange Enivré D’un Soleil Radieux is its ghost image, a tracery of loss embodied in crackle and hiss, the slow accumulation of sonic grime. Surface Of Soft Steps, Violets Whisper follows, innocent and tentative, delicately alluring, but like all of us invisibly diseased.

Caduceus traces a narrative of entropy, ruins illuminated in the half light. Rabelais’ production techniques – dysmorphic, congested with static and stray radio signals – bear a directness that mirrors Cocteau’s reverse transitions in Orphee (closing composition A Door Opens Backwards sustains an echo of this).

Caduceus is both a meditation on and an exposition of beauty. There’s something tyrannical, unforgiving, even intolerant, about it. This will happen, it seems to say, you must endure, but you may also be tempted to marvel as it unfolds.

See also:
- Akira Rabelais ~ Spellewauerynsherde
- Upcoming: Caduceus on Hard Format (22nd May)

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