24 Sep 2020
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Empasse - EP Review: Ultraviolet

13 Sep 2020 // A review by Mike Alexander

Ultraviolet has history – literally. As its composer Nick Johnston explains in the press release accompanying the EP, his first under the moniker Empasse , it is a “soundtrack to a story that is not well known in New Zealand outside the Waikato region where I live. The story of the town of Rotowaro, a former mining village that was entirely removed in the 1980’s to make way for an opencast coal mine.”

“The mine fuelled the Huntly Power Station, the largest thermal power station in New Zealand, which has been identified as responsible for over half of New Zealand’s carbon emissions from electricity generation.”

With that in mind, it gives listeners a road map of sorts and specific signposts – Lockdown, Battering Ram, Ultraviolet and Sam – in relation to where the music is intended to take them.

The sweep though is a lot broader and in some places grander or more cinematic than you might initially expect. Lockdown is eerily dark and shimmering as it pans open with the hint of a piano melody that becomes clearer and clearer and then fades away into a moment of silence before a flourish of synthesisers and a drum stick beat suggest (almost like a mini overture) a turning point. Battering Ram, doesn’t quite segue seamlessly but its hammering rhythm and thudding bass and piano and sweeping electronics certainly conjure up images of “industrial activity”. The title track is equally as busy musically with a treated snare sound, rock steady drum pounds, throbbing synthesisers and a slightly grandiloquent bridge, which insistently churns away as it expands and contracts. When it recedes, it gives way to the fluttering piano introduction to Sam, which becomes more stately with added percussion sounds and a nagging melody that has an almost merry-go-round sound.

It’s not always readily discernible just exactly how the sounds you hear are generated and that’s part of the beauty of these tracks.

“My musical background is mainly in pop and rock bands, so when it came to creating electronic music, I was not very familiar with how to manipulate synthetic sounds” Johnston says. “Rather than manipulating the sound of the synthesisers, I ended up blending synthetic sounds with organic sounds to create new instruments and textures.”

It’s quite ingenious how the use of manufactured and organic sounds is in keeping with the thematic thrust of Ultraviolet – the impact of industry on the environment.

Music with a wordless message can be just as powerful as the spoken word. I hope we hear more from Empasse.

Rating: ( 4 / 5 )
 

About Empasse

Musician from Kirikiriroa, Aotearoa New Zealand creating cinematic instrumental music.




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