||| |||, ‘Feireenesse’

Posted by on October 5, 2016

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Entr’acte, 6.21.2016

Entr’acte, the Antwerp-based label renowned for its stripped-back approach to packaging and presentation, has released its most enigmatic artefact yet in the form of Feireenesse, the new (perhaps only) album by ||| |||, aka Six Swords — an artist or group of artists so difficult to research as to seem positively incorporeal in this supersaturated age of misinformation. The eight brief offerings here are modern interpretations of the music Michael Maier created to soundtrack his own infamous emblem book Atalanta fugiens in 1617, and, like the visionary alchemist, seems to delight at the manner in which multimedia representations of a single subject — in this case the mythological Greek huntress Atalanta — can draw its audience around never-ending circles in the search for a definitive exegesis. Scholars of literature, science, art and music to this day pick apart Maier’s words, Matthäus Merian’s attendant etchings and the odd, disjointed fugues that were intended to play alongside it all.

When you finally uncover it, ||| |||’s online homage is a fleetingly fascinating pickle full of sutric cul-de-sacs, glitched-up threads of Donwoodian graphorrhea, more music and frankly insane animations. It works in much the same way as mentions of The King in Yellow and Carcosa in the first season of True Detective did, which is to say it provides an illusion of mystic depth where none really exists, at least not until you reach the source text and that doesn’t take long. Still, it’s all fun and games and an evening’s worth of semi-interesting research for this writer at least. What Feireenesse and its surrounding paraphernalia succeeds in doing best, of course, is bringing Maier’s genuinely astonishing early example of cross-platform publishing to life in a manner modern-day audiences can appreciate, no matter how quickly the internet scuppers things. In 1617, Atalanta fugiens must have felt genuinely overwhelming in scope, perhaps even a little terrifying.

Never previously having heard Maier’s originals, I went into Six Swords’ versions blind and, fittingly, found them to contain far more points of interest than their 2-3 minute running times might intimate. Each is numbered to be heard alongside its etching, so “Atalanta Fugiens #19” is supposedly the appropriate piece to play when gazing upon Emblem XIX, aka “If you kill one of the four, they will all suddenly die,” and “Atalanta Fugiens #7” works best with Emblem VII, or “A young eaglet attempts to fly out of its own nest and falls into it again.”

For all the mysticism, Maier’s fugues are coarsely chromatic little things that I would say speak hardly at all of the action they proclaim to illuminate, so I imagine whoever is behind ||| ||| will have had a great deal of amusement transforming them into the fizzing tangles of electronic noise that fill Feireenesse. The source material is subtly audible here and there but often as a rickety scaffold throughout which ||| ||| can weave. At its strongest, such as with the exquisite “Atalanta Fugiens #9” (partner with Emblem IX: “Lock the tree with the old man in a bedewed house and, by eating of the tree’s fruit, the old man becomes young” for full alchemical effect), Feireenesse is restlessly complex, patching together elements of noise, glitch, drone and kosmische electronica, and using the repetitive nature of Maier’s cantus firmus to develop a kind of off-kilter rhythm. When the foot comes off the pedal the tracks here ring much closer to Maier’s three-voice compositions, but where the German stuck to strict compositional rules, ||| ||| allows for a great deal more interaction between the strands, as with “Atalanta Fugiens #5” which bleed and coil until the music burbles and croaks quite frighteningly like the “venomous” toad that almost suffocates a sleeping man in Atalanta fugiens‘ corresponding discourse and is allowed to suckle a woman’s breast in the 5th emblem.

||| |||’s own description of Feireenesse is practically unintelligible, but one line in particular stands out. It says the album exists “for your pleasure in the past” and, if I’ve taken anything from this most intriguing collection of translations, it is an enormous joy in learning about and reading Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens.  That the sheer oddness of his alchemical world can be brought so vividly to life through modern music and methods of communication is enormous testament to whomever stands behind the ||| ||| mask and I sincerely hope their exploration into the Atalanta fugiens does not end with Feireenesse.