Vortex by SonarRelease date: March 30, 2018
Sonar have been around for eight years since their formation in their hometown in Zurich, Switzerland. They’ve released so far three studio albums, one live album, and one EP. The band considers Stephan Thelen and Bernhard Wagner on Guitars, Christian Kunter on Bass, and Manuel Pasquinelli on Drums. Now I first remember hearing Sonar’s music on both Prog Rock Deep Cuts with Ian Beabout and Sid Smith’s Podcasts from the Yellow Room.
Now at the time, this was when after I had graduated from Houston Community College, I didn’t know what to think of it. I just wasn’t ready for it yet at the time. This was 2014 and I was already delving into the worlds of Led Bib, Present, and more of Magma’s music, but Sonar wasn’t ready for me yet during that time frame. It wasn’t until last year when Sonar made me open my eyes more to discover that it wasn’t just Progressive music, but minimalism.
The essence of Avant-Garde, Tritone’s, Ambient, Surrealism, and Ominous music combined into one. When it was announced in 2017 they were collaborating with David Torn on a new album they recorded at Powerplay Studios in February of that year located at Maur, Switzerland which is about 20 minutes outside of Zurich with D. James Goodwin at the Engineer realm and recorded for three days, it made me realized I needed to jump on Sonar’s boat to see what I was missing.
Now David Torn, I’ve heard a little bit about him when he collaborated with the late great David Bowie on two albums. 2002’s Heathen and 2013’s The Next Day. Not to mention the collaboration he did in 2011 with Alan White and Tony Levin entitled Levin Torn White. Torn is not just known for his guitar landscape, but also doing film scores such as; Everything Must Go, Believe in Me, The Order, The Light of the Moon, and a composer for the 2013 soundtrack to the video game, Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm.
The collaboration between Sonar and David Torn seems like a very interesting combination, but it works very well. Vortex which is releaed on the RareNoise label, is like a film score set in a dystopian futuristic wasteland and the dangers nearing the landscape is only going to get worse by the minute. And Vortex takes you through those obstacles.
According to an interview that Anil Prasad did with them for Music Without Borders: Innerviews this year, ‘Part 44’ is described by Torn a composition about space. He sets his guitar through these atmospheric lines where he uses these effects to get them set up for the barriers along with the opening loop.
Stephen and Bernard follow suit by helping David out by these tightrope sections that help David keep an eye on them and knowing he’s coming up with something on what he’ll do next before heading into the uncharted waters of hay wiring effects. Listening to ‘Red Shift’, I could sense that Sonar are paying a nod to NEU’s ‘Hero’ from NEU! 75. The band tip their hat to Michael Rother’s genius and following through these secret passageways in the first half of the arrangement.
The second half is a cat-and-mouse chase between David and Manuel’s structure of the tritone. And then the third and final half of the composition is the doors busting down by seeing this big bright disturbing light as Torn’s loops create the tension as the temperature level rises up more and more.
On ‘Monolith’ the tritone’s on here, has given me more chills when I listened to this. David make his guitar sound like a howling beast that gives these cries as if the tiny village can hear miles and miles away as if a pin drop has happened. Knowing that it is not going to be pretty when it released from its cage and when it arrives, it is going to be a difficult attack and the beast is ready to kill its prey.
The title-track has reminisces between David Bowie’s Outside-era and Stick Men’s Prog Noir. I’ve mentioned earlier in my introduction about the dystopian futuristic wasteland. Well that’s what the title-track does is taking you through that location and it is the place where the mysterious and the dangers of the people you do not want to go near.
The intensity goes up a notch thanks to Manuel’s increasive patterns on his drums to let the listener know that it’s time to go guns blazing. And there may not be a chance to come back through the dangers that they’re facing. This is my third time listening to Vortex. This journey I embarked on with this album with their fourth studio album raised my arm-hairs going up a notch more and more.
I’ll admit, even though I’m not a gigantic Sonar fan, Vortex is a movie inside your head. In the closing words of Anil Prasad’s foreword notes that he did for the album, he said, “Music intersected with much humor, not to mention lots of fine wine and absinthe. Sit back, hit play and let these waves and particles wash over you.”