Pierce With Arrow: Shatter
LP | CD | DL
Everything is connected. Everything is corrupted. Everything very electric. Who’s to say a candlelit living room can’t be a dancefloor? Berlin’s Pierce With Arrow, the new album from U.S minimal, techno mage Troy Pierce and Columbian audiovisual artist Natalia Escobar, confirms the existence of such a scene, such a sense. By Ryan Walker.
A debut project from each respectable artist; and on the Dais Label too; here performing as a beautiful synergy between a vast assortment of experiences and approaches to the alternative, electronic arts. Immersive in their melancholy, so dark in their depth; harrowing in their approach to articulating the alien, insidious noise which creeps up from behind us all.
Here it hunts and lures and lurches belowground and behind curtains and between bedsheets; an intermediary between love and lust; the interdisciplinary and the multidimensional, a liminal space of intellect and intuition, a great fissure sutured by the azoth within each grain of detail.
And when struck by the sensation of something unexpected and greater than our small selves in shrinking states of apathy; when situated under the pressure of the pulse of every commanding incantation and mangled clang, emanating from every track, we are simply left…to Shatter into flowers.
The album is a musical convergence between the duo’s mutual fascination between the spatial and cinematic disciplines to music. as a means of deciphering the interior night and the daily rage of wanting something we cannot have; a tormented yearning; an obsessive, illicit, unrequited arch, which harnesses the strings our twitching limbs are attached to. These sentiments were inspired by Echo and Narcissus; one of many Greek tales in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
”When I first heard the myth I found it so poetic, timeless, I loved how it explains these acoustic and natural phenomena.” – Natalia Escobar.
LTW: What was it about Ovid’s myth that resonated with you?
T (Troy Pierce): “Within Ovid’s tale of Echo & Narcissus we were really drawn to the ideas of longing, loss frustration, and misplaced love. There is a psychological torment one goes through confronting heartbreak and the loss of self that comes with suffering. These ideas play out for both characters, in different ways but in the end, both are alone and wasting away. There is a pensive and wistful thread that runs through the album, which comes from using the themes from the myth to guide our storytelling musically.
N: When I first heard the myth I found it so poetic, timeless, I loved how it explains these acoustic and natural phenomena. Later, read an essay by Derrida, his take on the allegory and his invitation to the reconsideration of the myth, and the deconstructive notion of the self it is very interesting.”
For those of you who lack an education in Latin and Greek mythology: Liriope gave birth to a handsome, young man called Narcissus. Narcissus refused to reciprocate his affection unto others; what a shame it must have been for those lines of queuing cool kids and ”legions of lusty men and bevvies of girls” who desired nothing more than to be loved back by a beautiful Narcissus. Echo is a roebuck; or nymph; who cannot recite any other vocabulary other than what has been heard before: an Echo.
Like the others, Echo is repelled by Narcissus who shrinks in horror and yells, upon being greeted by Echo: ”hands off! May I die before you enjoy my body!” Echo’s reply, due to what Juno has burdened her with upon catching her in bed with Jupiter; was a simulation of Narcissus last: ‘‘…enjoy my body”. And that is all she can do, all she can be; a mimicry of what has come before.
Echo flees to a forest all “wretches and sleepless”. Narcissus when out hunting falls in love with his own image in a puddle of water. An image he is besotted by but unable to grasp. The arbiters that be decided to condemn Narcissus to waste away captivated by his own appearance, which he couldn’t be dragged from, “nor hunger nor food nor need for sleep”. Such gazing, when seared by what’s appealing, when severed by rejection ”proved his demise”. For no other love matched his own, so unparalleled and inferior, contaminated by vanity and wrapped in neuroses, feasting on this “fraudulent image of beauty”.
And in turn, hollowed out to but a shell; shallow and all trapped in a state of sorrow, sapping his strength; an impression of wealth abandoned and leaving him a pitied pauper. And in such intense, ravenous states self-infatuation, arrive the stages of decomposition and Narcissus wastes away as witnessed by Echo upon her return.
Like the song itself, it approaches from the cold bewilderment. With the steps of wonderment and curiosity and passion similar to those of sulphur as “smeared on the tip of pine-torch”, as she approaches Narcissus. It’s a firm fist confronting a slab of thick meat that provides the general rhythmic backbone here. Wonderfully replicates the various emotions which permeate each page of Ovid’s work, moulding and manipulating vignettes and disjointed prose, the dualism of fire and ice, love and lust, an unwavering yearning to create a dense spectrum of enchanting sonic treasures. About to implode with fervid drumming throughout the bloodstream. With psychotic, kaleidoscopic overtones, appearing and evaporating as a propulsive, immersive feature throughout.
The duo wanted the album to be evidence of their mission to pursue a “spatial approach” to the songs. A concept that manifests itself in the sound’s immersive designs and interactive structures, encouraging us to walk through them; patiently waiting to fulfil its full-waveform without abruption. Immersive like damaged stars crash into black beaches in slow-motion horror.
Sleepwalker dub thumbs transmuting blocks of lead into bars of gold. Chords of molten rock. The broken bodies of betrayed angels dropped on shores like hydrogen bombs. Restless ribbons unwrap kisses and ripple the inner swimming pool of vermillion tides; once still and silent but now disturbed and active. A humming machine with tapes for brains deflates and inhales. The subtle turning of the screw. Lips digging into the skin. The unfolding of an entire landscape. A silent film projected in shiny, white, fire eyes.
LTW: I’m intrigued by the notions of a ‘spatial approach’ to music…like there’s an
opportunity to walk into a room involved when listening to the music. Why was this important and where did the concept come from?
PWA: “That’s a great way to put it and sort of how we approached the production. The initial idea was to make a short film and write the score to it, we ended up making ten vignettes inspired by the Greek myth of Narcissus & Echo and scored them. The concept comes from writing music to the connections and feelings to the specific locations of the films and the interactions the characters had within the space. It was important for us to envelop the listener within these environments.”
LTW: There’s a lot of different styles on the album; like a compilation of fragments that unfurl but find their place as a cohesive unit of sounds and personalities…but who are you actually inspired by, or what are you actually influenced by?
T: “Natalia and I come from very different backgrounds, (she grew up in Colombia, I was raised in the Midwestern U.S.), but we often gravitated towards very similar music.”
Pierce’s previous work isn’t all that dissimilar from what we hear here. He recites a list of influences ranging from Section to 25, to Silver Apples, to Chris & Cosey, William Basinski, Tropic of Cancer, Deaf Centre, and HTRK. Also concluding that Roxy Music’s In Every Dream Home A Heartbreak “gives me the chills”.
And these kinds of sources, these disparate, sometimes challenging styles of sound, can be found in experimental alien-electro in Louderbach; a string of sweet remixes for Depeche Mode, Juan Atkins, and The Knife; and a batch of beautiful, neo-Tokyo, noir-warehouse grooves as housed on his own record label: Items and Things.
The world Natalia comes from is a little different. And that’s a good thing.
As intrigued and influenced by “uncompromised artists, musicians, and filmmakers”, such as Cosey Fanni Tutti, Coil, Helenita Vargas, Las Hermanitas Calle, Alice Coltrane, Francis Alÿs, Apichatpong, Arrow is also inspired by the thought of other worlds, by nature, storytelling, fungi, machetes, Rupaul’s Drag Race, and by altered states of consciousness”.
The big one of the bunch is David Lynch. But also Brion Gysin and writers Donna Haraway and Ursula L Guin. Dream machines, cyborgs, and science-fiction with feminist sentiments underpinning the alluring, surrealist intensity of the work.
Troy confirms that “I think despite the different styles musically, the songs we both admire from these artists all share a lovesick melancholy and a deep feeling of nostalgia. Those feelings are somehow weirdly inspiring also and an endless resource for the music I enjoy making”.
And such an overlap is absolutely noticeable on tunes such as Dissolving to a Voice. It startles a serene stretch of water; a small wavelength of bass upon a vast stretch of silver liquid. Zooming signals and spikes of the light shoot by from one side of the landscape to the other, as small objects leave the ground, defying the laws of gravity, changing shape the more the track churns.
They rotate endlessly, unbothered and unbounded and levitating as though weightless, liberated and without a sound. The cadence of a cadaver in a massive cathedral space; the ludic melody of the afterlife in the form of moving, low hums of reverb and hissing machines with patches of static ravaging their lungs; breathing heavier as a drumbeat is mistaken for the footstep on weary, wooden floorboards.
Every track on the album is blooming and ballooning and brilliantly imbued with a multitude of moods and emotions; unleashing a strand of feelings to pick apart when submerged below its surface. Moods akin to that of Pierce’s 2013s Softcore or Mick Harris’ excursions as Fret with their desolate space-grooves, transporting notions of aural to the architectural with its guttural, disjointed grunts and pulses, enmeshed into a heavy bed of primitive whistles and multiflorous darkwave, techno-void, descending into a metallic gaze. An electronic odyssey for the day after yesterday.
Arrow’s own parasomnia sounds regularly seep through confirming it a remarkable, collaborative voyage. Like her own additional, collaborative efforts with dBridge; the seductive, significance on the body being a key feature of her work. Always being slowly swallowed by something, alive or asleep, whole or in pieces, wrestling with the weights in our chest, of texture and temperature, sublunar and dreamlike, a delicate trail of belladonna creeping throughout a wall of geometric shapes; lost for responses with tranquilised eyes amongst the crackles of static in a psychic warehouse. Trembling heartbeat against brittle, broken beats and bass rhythms.
I’m curious as to what it is about the collaborative process that keeps artists engaged? Something significant happens like a burst of white light firing upwards when the curvature of their working, creative circles overlaps, challenges are met, encouraging and constructive sets of minds are playfully, productively: entwined.
LTW: Collaborations are sometimes healthy ingredients to introduce new lights onto albums…Poison Arrow has worked with dBridge with Exit and they come from respectable techno, experimental electronic, or drum n bass lands…do you enjoy collaboration, and what was it about Black and Bridge that justified their placement in the album?
N: I am really into collaborations, like you say they can introduce new lights, like stars, when we get together we can create constellations, or black holes, both equally exciting. I am really into Konrad Black and dBridge’s music, they are two of the most crafted and interesting producers I know. They are close collaborators that were really into the project, so we ask for some extra spice, their contributions are so obscure and beautiful at the same time.
T: While I don’t do collaborations very often when I do, I really enjoy the outcome. Working alone in the studio I often get in the habit of using the same gear in the same way so it’s refreshing and inspiring to have new eyes and ears to break out of old habits. Natalia comes up with crazy ideas that usually turn out amazing.
The purpose of a creative convergence between individual artists with such, in some cases, provocative vision in contemporary electro-performance, art-experiment worlds, is interesting.
The examples here would be on Obsidian Glass ft. austere techno producer Konrad Black. It unfurls as a dazzling spell of colourful, cosmic rays, radiating from the nocturnal monuments on haunted, distant hills. Alchemical instrumentation and piercing whispers erupt and flutter from the strange alcoves of the mind’s dark, subconscious corridors amongst drones and warbles of low, bass squelched, thrilling strobes, creating the climax of an intergalactic avalanche.
Likewise, It’s A Love Story, After All,…features a cool, spot from Exit and Pleasure District founder and drum ‘n’ bass institution dBridge; who released Escobar’s EP, If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Cut Your Face) in 2018. It approaches from the shadows as a predatory spectre lingers behind the veil. An unnerving flood of ambient detail and liminal, illbient, alien presence. A murderous chirp from afar, an intense, sharpening of some great sabre, the startling of a reflection in an unmuddied puddle of shimmering water, pangs and zaps and light-chimes through tribal, concrete wildlife, of intermittent melodic entities, dripping from invisible strings; a slow injection of analgesia into the wet, powder blue veins, to subdue the jungle-pulse, a tongue running up and ripping apart moist, bejewelled skin before the obliterated particles regroup, swiftly regaining adrenalized pace towards the tail.
Every element is treated as equals on this plane, this constellation as Arrow so poetically puts it. And that was kind of the point anyway: for two artists of a certain standard of intellect and action, to push boundaries and unveil the album as something that can be experienced like walking into a room.
The album can be visualised as an impeccable bridging between all worlds, a merging of aspects – the audio and the visual iterated with the same forceful hit. This desire to stitch and interlink and unlock all the senses often unavailable to the ordinary, untrained mind, started with a series of surreal videos to play live; which then inspired the music to be written accordingly. And finally, the idea of perfumer Mark Buxton came about as an “olfactive translation” (scent) of what had manifested in the shape of the music videos and tunes.
It is best put into practice with She Pined away; a nice smorgasbord of electronic sorcery and jittery, algorithmic paroxysms able to crack apart at any moment and collapse upon us. Crawling under the skin all odd and atonal; a slow waltz, and sexy-hellish, intimidating and spellbinding amongst a strut of old-boots-on-broken-branch beats and cacophonous noises, shuddering and shining fragments of stained-glass-light blasting outward from the core of the solar plexus…turning, falling, almost free…almost.
The duo wanted “to create emotional soundscapes, by using haunting synths, swirling textures and shadowy atmospheres, that would lure the listening into our eerie and mysterious world”. Tracks like In the Depths of His Eyes or His Rejection are very much musical manifestations of this desire, I assume, to strike a distinctly graphic, immersive, synergistic relationship between Cronenberg and Cocteau.
The former, rises like a hovering cluster of red lights, prickling, and skittering and popping to the robust, hypnogogic techno jolts. The latter is an erotic, robot waltz randomly damaged palpitations of instruments shaving themselves to the bones the more they walk, constantly lost in futile, states of decomposition).
Increasing in heaviness; A Tight Passage heaves and unleashes whatever the rattling keys are rumoured to unlock. A monotonous presence of a monstrous machine sitting in the corner of a dimly lit room, smiles to itself, swaying all estranged from the human race; abandoned like a plant in an old house, but succeeds in summoning the virtuous strength and grows into great vines. It groans and grumbles from the trenches upon its scaled belly. Writhing wildly and touch the void’s hot oscillations of the threshold. Shadows and firelight intertwined in a volatile twist of synchronicity. Melting ice on platforms of green, stainless steel, bullet, and butterfly collision sequence. Irresistible flickers of lunisolar melodies, exploding above the nightmarish, warped, noir metropolis.
And these aspects of the album’s design are irresistible. Thematic, music languages of creating and destroying, glamour and gloom, magical melodies asunder on their own vibrant, volatile wavelength, neo-tropical and post-apocalyptic, nimble snippets of sound pleasured by the pillories conceived within each landscape of each song.
Like The Night Is End, which radiates and fires flashes of electricity to the vertebrae with every explosive handclap and tumbling stutter of percussion. Persistent, walking, aimlessly, carelessly, in delightful, dizzy, silly spells of splendid chloral hydrate bliss. A profusion of spooked-horse grooves, galloping throughout a buzzing forest of fabulous noises: a sigh of wild wind passes through fragile networks of branches; the punctured language of ancient, discarded, Aztec Twin machinery. A cyber-Gothic novella, imagined in total super-polychromatic mm film, soundtracked by Stereolab and Seefeel.
Monotonous, muscular bassline, laminated in dewdrops, shoots, and sways straight down of the heart of the track, anchoring all those intricate, mechanical lifeforms into place. Satellites, and celestial bodies devoured by the mind’s rising tides. Gorgeous rockets shot up from a silver city and through dark skies. Post-oblivion head resting against the engine’s breastplate, suspended in states of ecstasy and elegia. In the name of the boy with chiming, rusty, pinwheels in his ribcage. All in the name of the girl down by the river, Electra.
With Narcissus, the concluding song, there is a sense of straddling behind as an empty vessel driven mad by all he has been condemned to be until the final hour, malignantly self-absorbed to the point of nothingness; a flower in his place, drowning despite not being near water. Emerging as a sonic equivalent of yellow wax melting on a gentle flame. Sustained keyboard chords ring and repeat. The subdued and slow beat of drum thuds and pulses march onward as the first few footsteps on otherwise untouched pathways, in sand and on soil.
Painting pictures and building cities, Pierce With Arrow succeeds in establishing a certain equilibrium for all the senses. To uncoil and be explored, to be reimagined and manipulated, on the same sentient, experiential level. And in some cases; heightening them to the standards of ecstasy when they are released, when they are actively, organically, encouraged to shatter.
Like something has been forgotten.
Like something has been misplaced.
But here; regularly reminded of the malicious scripts, iterations of the same old face permeated with the same old grey, returning day, are not solely premised upon what we can see…because of how sad are we, and how silly, and how blind we must be; to unquestionably believe in what we can see as the benumbing ultimatum; we are too reminded in the notions that all which keeps things apart is a thin line of water. If we are willing to search, it’s a fabulous voyage through the malaise; this sensory exploration, the inner sanctum’s riverbank, a genuine folie à plusieurs.
Pierce With Arrow and Dais Records have teamed up with Folie A Plusieurs perfumer Mark Buxton to create a special scent exclusively for “Shatter” and developed by Japanese incense house Hako.
The incense paper comes as a black leaf, intended to be burned while listening and packaged within the limited Silver/White vinyl edition of 200 copies, only available through Dais Records.
Ryan Walker is a writer from Bolton. His archive can be found online here.