Babe, Terror: Teghnojoyg

Babe, Terror is the moniker of the São Paulo-based electronic producer Claudio Katz Szynkier, and the woozy, magnetic music he issues under this alias has attracted pockets of influential admirers. In 2010, Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden reworked one of Szynkier’s pieces, “Summertime Our League,” for an EP of the same name. The Norwegian space-disco producer Prins Thomas and tropicalia legend Caetano Veloso count themselves among his fans, as does Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Avery, who has turned up alongside him on wax, and the shoegaze band Ride, who included a 26-minute suite Szynkier composed from their own tapes on the Japanese version of their album Weather Diaries.

These are disparate artists, but they share a sculptural approach to music making, a tendency to manipulate sounds like clay. You can imagine what may have excited their imaginations when listening to Szynkier’s information-dense and implication-heavy new album Teghnojoyg, which comes on like an overpowering wave but breaks down into squirming particles the closer you squint at it. As he did on 2020’s disquieting Horizogon, Szynkier composts a pile of antique sounds—dollar-bin disco LPs seemingly spun backwards, snippets of could-be obscure jazz albums, old orchestral 78s—until they give off an alluring, dangerous heat. He cherishes sensory disorientation, and his works often clash meters and keys: Pieces like “Mesopothance” invite the suspicion that you have two tabs open, playing incongruous pieces of music. But they slot together in a pleasingly strange way, congealing into a whole under the intensity of Szynkier’s gaze. This music is so warped and tactile you can almost see it melting.

Szynkier seeks to extract not familiarity from his well-worn sounds, but its opposite. He scrambles and chops his samples until they yield the desired ghosts: On “Congosymphag,” he swirls together some disembodied voices—breathy, soulful vocals that may have belonged to a house record long, long ago, somewhere far, far away—until they seem to suck downward and liquefy in the spinning blades of his sampler. On “Casa Das Canoagens,” an orchestra plays something dark and plangent, a late-Romantic work whose troubled chords hint at the incipient breakdown of tonality. It could be Mahler, Bartok, Strauss, early Schoenberg. But Szynkier defaces it with Vangelis synth squirts that fire neon-pink blotches all over the track, an early-’80s technofuturist vision straight out of Blade Runner set loose in fin-de-siècle Vienna. Somewhere miles away and off to the side, a chintzy drawing-room piano tinkles away at a sentimental melody, maybe Rachmaninoff, oblivious to the chaos around it. The way Szynkier positions these pieces around each other suggests a yearning of some sort, a melancholy spirit of inquiry.

Szynkier has used the world “portal” to describe the sensation he wants his music to evoke, and like many musicians—William Basinski comes to mind—he is obsessed with the warping and eroding effects of memory, both cultural and political. He’s spoken passionately about the outsized effects of COVID-19 on his home country of Brazil under the “pathological capitalism” of Bolsonaro’s far-right government, and called for a reckoning with the resulting psychological traumas. But full-scale societal trauma is too enormous to be faced head on: Instead, it transmutes itself into the fabric of our dreams and nightmares. The music on Teghnojoyg throbs with a sort of jubilant unease, a haunted half-revelry that feels like vibrant ghosts babbling their way down now-empty city streets.

That plangent string writing returns again in the album’s final piece, “Casa das Guineas.” Save for some dark, unnatural notes lurking deep in the bass, the harmonic language now is peaceful, settled, majestic. Some glowing synth patches dot the sky again, another alien landing, but this time Szynkier allows the mood to remain tender, and the key stays major. Somewhere amid the the busy bubbling of the synths, the 18th-century piano, still plinking away, and the heaving orchestra, you sense Szynkier sorting through various pasts for apocalypses both real and imagined, encroaching and still possible, to find where the shafts of light might poke through.