Roly Porter – Life Cycle Of A Massive Star (2013)

Sophomore release from Vex’d member Roly Porter, Life Cycle Of A Massive Star.

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The stars have always fascinated me. I was one of those kids growing up that had a big love of space and volcanoes and dinosaurs and other big or old stuff that kids find so difficult to wrap their heads around. These days the wonder lies less so in the mysticism surrounding these things, the things we dont know about space and the evocative images we’re shown of it etc, but how much we do know, and how we got there. It’s incredible to me that telescopes are not simple visible light instruments, they can see across the spectrum things we cant with the naked eye. They cut through the stellar dust with infra-red and watch pulsars with X-Ray detectors, learn about the chemical composition of distant objects by analysing the light spectrums they emit. And through this technology we can observe these distant furnaces in various stages of their lives, and musicians like Roly Porter can pick up the pieces of these cosmic displays and turn them into beautiful, sometimes harrowing, music.

We start just like our Sun started, in “Cloud”, a nebulous expanse of dust and gas spanning for lightyears. It’s bleak, dark and featureless, the feeble light of neighbouring stars illuminating the edges of its field and undulations at its fringes. Surprisingly the piece starts off quite determined and empowered, juddering along in cycling, staccato electronic beats amidst a wash of melancholic drone and whining voices. On and on it goes, this the longest track of the album, suspended in the darkness for unknown billions of years being relentlessly fast-forwarded by Porter. There’s a really surprising sense of urgency in this piece, one of trying to initiate something and break free, threatening instability in the unstoppable electronic but languishing in placidity in the vast drones below. 7 minutes pass by and it only gets bolder and more determined until at long last it becomes sated and finally succumbs to the drones and violins.

But it’s clear why, because after all its protestation something has been set in motion and there’s a dark pleasure in the thick basslines that close “Cloud” and the changing pace of followup “Gravity”. Distant marching rhythms are paving the path for something big, and they rapidly come to the fore as growling basslines and abrading noise fragments. The cloud is on the move, the particles are swirling together now, working as a unit and the prospect is terrifying as it peaks out in a flurry of glitch and noise. It begins to work more quietly following this period of activity, slowly pooling its resources and agglomerating ready for its big moment; there are intermittent rushes of noise, passing concentrations of gas, but it’s largely dominated by thin violin drones and reverbed, far distant electronic scrapings and scurries. These protracted and minimal strings in the final phase are the mournful introduction to the next and biggest part in our adventure.

“Birth” has arrived. A pulse of bass sends a shockwave through the cloud, quickly followed by a brief rush of ominous, skittering noise. A few moments of drone and then silence before it hits, another large shockwave of ferocious and obliterating electronic noise and suddenly we’re airborne in a wave of expectant and pleasant drone, shining electronica and slow reverbed chanting; we’re on the cusp of witnessing this cosmic miracle and the music wants us to feel enthused for it. A quick beat comes in again, distant at first but its fast pace and rapid encroachment only signify the impending event, like some sort of hype inducing countdown. It builds and builds, all very suddenly until…ignition. The first blast of light powers through with a slight rumble as the music terminates, our circumstellar disk all of a sudden illuminated and redundant as the noisy solar wind begins the process of blowing it away. We made a star.

And so its long life begins in “Sequence”, introduced with little shimmering synth twinkles dancing away in the thick darkness of the all-consuming and oppressive drone that dominates this piece. Slowly our star begins to brighten and grow, dispelling that claustrophobic darkness as light, looped drone sequences return again. Ultimately our star is a nice and stable one, and it does little across its duration other than continue to burn and cast its warm light as it travels through space; a few little flutters here and there demarcating the changes of its fiery surface but remaining the same for all intents and purposes in this necessarily slow track.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and for our star “Giant” is that end. A foreshadowing drum beat segues us in; we’ve got problems. Our star is running out of usable Hydrogen, and it must consume heavier elements in order to survive. The violins are dark and menacing, for they know what is to come, and out of the middle comes a great wall of noise, a klaxon of concern as our star begins to fall deeper into trouble. It chokes on the last fumes in the tank, shambling on currents of violent noise before succumbing and billowing out in a rush of the most cathartic noise I’ve heard in a long time. A little stumble in the glitch and suddenly the star surges, growing wildly out of control in a cacophony of fear and panic. But there’s something beneath the mind-bending glitch; the optimistic and soothing tones of the choral chanting return in this stunning event, admiring the beauty in our star’s death as it finally runs out of steam and sheds its outer layers, returning its lifeblood back to the space whence it came for future generations as the music diffuses out and falls into silence.

I really cannot stress how incredible this album is, and even more so given its short 36 minute timespan. I wasn’t expecting great things from Porter following his debut (which was limp in my opinion), but the theme was beautiful and exceptionally well detailed. There is one important message to take away from this album; it’s not about the journey or the life of the star itself, the fascination comes from the events preceding it, proceeding it. Ultimately life is nice and stable, safe and unwavering, we should be amazed our imaginary star had the opportunity to exist at all given the turbulent and dangerous processes of its creation. Revel in the notion that no matter what happens, no matter how boring our star or our lives seemingly are or are not, we’re always going to give some other star or some other person the capability to exist at all.

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