Tuesday 5 July 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Morphology

Dark Ambient Review: Morphology

Review By Casey Douglass

Morphology Album Art

I recently rewatched Marvel’s 2016 Doctor Strange film, and as I sit here trying to think of an opening paragraph for this post, it occurs to me that the scenes in which said doctor plummets through bizarre, ever evolving dimensions gel quite nicely with Diagnostic aka Jan Robbe’s dark ambient album Morphology. This is because, in my opinion, Morphology would be an excellent audio accompaniment if you are ever lucky enough to find yourself blasting through this kind of weird infinity.

Jan used a variety of sound design techniques when he created Morphology, weaving the influences of machine learning and chaos into each track, building up soundscapes with fluctuating discord and smoothly birthing reality bubbles, before pricking them with the next squeal of tone. The album art itself gives form to this feeling of the unusual. For me, it evokes notions of Giger, biological morphing and twisting alien realms, which makes it a great fit for the audio itself. The tracks themselves are whizzing, whirring maelstroms of sound pierced by periods during which you can settle into a kind of rhythm or comfort. That’s not to say they aren’t comfortable at other times, as even at their most frenetic, the sounds stay interesting and the right side of harsh.

Sensory Deprivation is my favourite track. It begins with a kind of “giant gas furnace bursting into flame” impression. A gentle squealing rises before giant rumbling crashes seem to hint at the ground itself folding over. There are moments of quiet static and then the cascade begins again. This track made me think of a hellish rocky landscape being sun-blasted by a nearby angry star. The colours of the scene are red and black, the shadows flickering and dancing as the massive energy swells scrape the surface of the landscape. This track made me feel both sci-fi planet explorer, hell denizen and slasher murder movie victim all at the same time. Dark, and I love it.

Hayabusa-2 is another track that stood out for me. This one opens with a pulsing, chiming, sparkling energy swirl, but soon morphs into a creaking, thudding space. There is the impression of things clattering and falling around, and this track felt very much like it might be describing a “quantum lodger dragging a quark-based table across their apartment floor”. After the midpoint, the track turns into a more haunted space, maybe shifting up to a more gross level of reality and letting the uneasiness sit there. Obviously, this is just my own mental narrative, but I liked the avenues that my mental taxi drove me down.

The final track that I’ll single out for attention is Morphology AI A. It starts with a muted rumble and a burst of what might be music. There is a ‘roaming wind’ feeling, like a distant storm. I thought that there were hints of tone that suggested technology coming to life, and a feeling of “channel hopping on TV”. As the midpoint approaches, there is something I noted down as “existential wonder-blare”, the kind of thing that you might hear if an angel actually appeared at your darkest time. This moment felt like some kind of bubble bursting, the wonder-blaring space that consumes the track hereafter an echoing, cave-like vastness, which contrasts wonderfully with the tech-fizz of the opening.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I’d get on with Morphology. It was certainly a departure for me, in regards to the type of dark ambient or experimental music that I’ve listened to before. What I found was an album that fizzed, warped and exploded its way through layer after layer of aural exploration, but one that managed to do this in a way that felt kind to the ears. Whether it’s kind to the mind will depend on the particular mind that’s listening. If you are someone who likes to ponder the vastness of the cosmos, of time, and the possibility of countless dimensions, I think that you’ll enjoy losing yourself for awhile in Morphology.

Visit the Morphology page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also stream the whole album on Jan’s YouTube channel embedded below. If you’d like to learn more about Morphology and Jan himself, you can find the interview that he kindly gave me at this link.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Morphology

Album Artist: Diagnostic / Jan Robbe

Released: 28 April 2022