LABEL (YEAR): CITY CENTRE OFFICES (2000)
FOR FANS OF: BOARDS OF CANADA, MASSIVE ATTACK, LAMB, NIGHTMARES ON WAX
Words by Aidan Daly
You’d think that being a fan of Warp darlings Autechre, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada I’d have been exposed to Arovane, aka Uwe Zahn, much earlier. Zahn’s contribution to the vast body of work lazily but continually termed ‘IDM’ is considerable, but he hasn’t received nearly the level of attention he deserves, especially compared to those mentioned above. Though Zahn’s second album Tides departs noticeably from the glitches and breaks of his debut Atol Scrap, it retains an acute level of melodic and emotional depth.
A central component of the album is the use of the harpsichord – its harsh, bright sound not typically associated with the placidity of the broader wave of late 90s/early noughties downtempo. On opener ‘Theme’, the instrument fades in over a reverb-heavy drum loop, the motif set up with the expectation that a bass line will enter, or some other structural deviation. Instead, the harpsichord simply fades out again and the song ends. Likewise, the instrument’s prominence in ‘A Secret’ slices through the blanket of delicate background synths – a contrast that serves to give the album much of its character and consistency.
‘Eleventh!’ comes close to being a replica of better-known Boards of Canada, all melancholy chords and fucked up samples of children’s laughter. Interestingly enough, however, Zahn actually anticipates the darker turn Boards would take with the occult-influenced Geogaddi, released two years after Tides. The album ends as it starts with ‘Epilogue’, as harpsichord and drum loops are set against each other again. This time the waters are choppier, the harshness of the harpsichord more apt for the closing track’s brooding twists and turns.
Tides ebbs and flows, pushes and pulls, achieving much with such a minimal structure of repeated, chopped up drum samples and subdued overhead melodies. As a whole, the album folds in and out of itself, tracks fading into the next, recalling earlier moments as it develops. In Tides, without over-conceptualising, Zahn succeeded in creating a body of music that reflects the subtle qualities of its namesake.