This is the densest that Gothenburg’s Carbon Based Lifeforms have ever sounded. Their previous output all the way back to the Notch incarnation traded on electronic sound with a very definite pulse, whether it was beats, underlying melody or sequences. TWENTY THREE is not so much a primal u-turn but an insular indulgence in layers of ambient sound that have previously been at the base of Carbon Based Lifeforms creations, not as a sonic shroud around them.
The title, TWENTYTHREE, is suggestive of everything from a numerologist’s wet dream to some in-joke or other. With this album, it no doubt refers to the width of the binary message sent out to some hopeful star cluster by the Arecibo Telescope in 1974. Unsurprisingly, the first track is entitled ARECIBO and it emulates a kind of meandering strobe of condensed sparsity and not the signals and waveforms you might expect ( This was the approach taken by Arecibo aka Lustmord on the ambient classic TRANS PLUTONIAN TRANSMISSIONS in 1994 ). Here, the hypothetical sound of the environment the signal passes through ( and not the signal itself ) is the subject. Occasional flourishes drifting in a distant part of the mix still manage to make this singular drone sound very much like Carbon Based Lifeforms as we know them. SYSTEM sheds some of the tonal weight of the 9 minute opener and bathes in random diffusions, oscillations and other fragments of audio spaghetti. SOMEWHERE IN RUSSIA opens with an airy rhythm and an indecipherable voice like a public announcement at some point of human transport. This gives way to a layered swell of slow drones and airy synths in a progression which is more acquainted with previous recorded output. The expectation here is that it will take off into a trademark Carbon Based Lifeforms sequence but it never does. TERPENE is more porous, allowing melody and even a hint of a rhythm to cut through the density to familiar sonic ground. INERTIA’s frosty layer of ambience with reverberating drips and dribbles glides like a sonic leak and a hypnotic thaw all in one. VLA ( VLA is the Radio Astronomy Observatory, in New Mexico – or in layman’s terms – that place with all the huge white satellite dishes in the desert that pops up in movies all the time ) is presented here in a 10 minute edited form. Like ARECIBO, it is one of the album’s dark moments guessing at an impervious ambience of vast space. For the adventurous soul, a one hour edit of this track was released round about the same time as the album. For this wretch’s ill gotten gains, the album provides a much more satisfying listen and the annexed release seems a little unnecessary. KENSINGTON GARDENS, an odd trajectory given the bulk of subject matter here, is based on field recordings and contrasts previous tracks with it’s terrestrial airflow, wind chimes, distant birds, traffic and even the odd hint of human offspring playing. HELD TOGETHER BY GRAVITY is the requiem, resolutely providing a tone of melancholy and bringing it all together, although whether there’s some greater message or concept contained herein is unclear, astray somewhere in the enigmatic throes of sound.
Why Messrs Hedberg and Segerstad chose at this point to add something so left field to a catalogue with a very established and recognisable output is anyone’s guess. Maybe it’s a conscious step away from the accessibility of the previous album INTERLOPER in order to maintain license to experiment as opposed to ebbing ever closer to commerciality. Given that at times, Carbon Based Lifeforms have been everything The Orb should have been and weren’t ( and that’s not a negative observation ), this was a distinct possibility. In that respect TWENTYTHREE is a brave step down the road less travelled and unless you’re an ambient fanatic, it may be somewhat of an impenetrable introduction to this excellent musical entity. – BOZ