In his work as Murcof, Fernando Corona has long shown a talent for drawing beauty out of bleakness. On his earliest albums, 2002’s Martes and 2005’s Remembranza, the Tijuana native fused the timbres of contemporary classical with the tonal and rhythmic elements of ambient, minimal techno, and microsound. Over the years, Corona diversified without abandoning his essential palette, balancing fulsome dub techno with spectral drones and glitch miniatures with lyrical etudes, in conversation simultaneously with Scriabin and Oval, Autechre and Ligeti. The Alias Sessions is Murcof’s first proper solo album, not counting the soundtracks Lost in Time and La Sangre Iluminada, since 2008’s The Versailles Sessions. Where that record explored the sensuous textures of chamber instruments like viola da gamba and harpsichord, The Alias Sessions represents a new stylistic step, distilling synthesized drones, acoustic timbres, and the occasional drumbeat into a molten, swirling mass, ominous yet engrossing.

Corona, who lives in Girona, Spain, has spent the past dozen or so years working with artists from across disciplines, exploring jazz fusion with French trumpeter Erik Truffaz and contemporary minimalism with French classical pianist Vanessa Wagner. The Alias Sessions derives from a pair of collaborations with the Brazilian-Swiss choreographer Guilherme Botelho and his company Alias. It’s striking to imagine this as music for dance, if only because overt rhythm plays such a minor role. Actual beats are few and far between: A brief flare of agonizingly slow death-march drums on “Unboxing Utopia” recalls Andy Stott’s scorched-earth techno; the percolating modular pings of “Underwater Lament” bring to mind the fizzing pulses of golden-era Pan Sonic. Mostly, his tones—out-of-tune strings and piano, charcoal-hued reverb, the threatening hum of aging electrical substations—just hover, like some foul mist. The net effect is a blend of mystery and outright malice; had Hildur Guðnadóttir not gotten the commission, Corona’s music would have made a fine soundtrack to HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries.

But this is, without a doubt, music of movement. For all its omnipresent darkness, nothing is ever static or even stable. Gray clouds are forever swelling and fading; weary whale-song moans rise and fall in pitch; microtonal clusters tremble with dissonance. The piano figure heard early in Contre-Mondes, the suite that takes up disc 1, flickers unsteadily, seeming to dissolve into midair. The disc 2 suite Normal opens with a tentative melody—violin, or perhaps Theremin—that is equally ethereal. It feels as transient as the memory of a color glimpsed just once, long ago. One of The Alias Sessions’ most fascinating motifs—the first identifiable sound heard on the album, and one that recurs throughout the first suite—is a low rumble, like a dog’s growl, slowed into a series of evilly oscillating waves. It is a kind of ghost rhythm, a seething undercurrent to the album’s carefully sculpted shapes; it feels as though Corona slid one of his drones beneath a microscope and discovered something terrible lurking inside the waveform.

Video extracts of Alias’ dance performances offer a fascinating glimpse of Corona’s music in situ. In Contre-Mondes, naked bodies writhe in slow, arcing movements, half covered in shadow; zoomed-in sequences draw parallels between the dancers’ rippling flesh and Corona’s undulating frequencies. Normal appears more dreamlike: The dancers, dressed in street clothes, fall to the ground as though fainting, then rise again, over and over, in waves. Live, Botelho’s choreography must have added a welcome dimension to Corona’s slow-moving behemoths, but the music is plenty dynamic on its own, particularly the doomy maelstrom of Contre-Mondes; the held tones and arpeggios of Normal are slightly more conventional, their abiding melancholy more familiar and thus less startling.

Most important, though, is a good pair of speakers or headphones, ideally turned up loud; there’s a wealth of detail here that laptop speakers simply can’t capture. And to really appreciate the worlds that Corona has created, they should be absorbed in full. These aren’t songs meant to be cherry-picked for playlists. Each of the two suites, both more than 40 minutes long, is a single piece of music, gradually and gracefully playing out its dramatic arc. The Alias Sessions may appear forbidding, but give it the requisite time (and volume) and Corona’s work rewards handsomely. Like the best horror films, it raises a spectacle of unease from which it’s impossible to look away.

Buy: Rough Trade


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