Viktor Benev is a Paris-based Bulgarian percussionist, composer and producer. Born just after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, he was exposed to a great variety of musical genres. Currently Benev works in the electroacoustic music domain, combining “sound design, field recording and computer generated music with live performance.” Benev’s sound sculptures come from a rich number of influences, starting with classical and jazz music, and he describes his current music as a “trance state.”
Instead of calling himself a “player,” Benev refers to himself as “the author” of this work, and doing so makes sense. Though I haven’t followed electronic classical composers too closely, some of this music on his album Aeon reminds me of the groundbreaking synthesized compositions of Morton Subotnick, and even the bizarre piano rolls of Conlon Nancarrow. In explaining this work, Benev states that it’s “…a linear 40-minute-long unfolding of the mystery that lies underneath the soundscapes, the underlying frequencies and their interaction with harmony, and the limitless rhythmical transformations, that keep us in a disturbing, yet peaceful state. Though the five tracks could be listened to separately, the album was conceived as a ‘suite’ to be encountered as a whole.”
As to the title, Aeon has multiple meanings: life, being, timelessness or eternity. For Benev, “Music creation is a way of being, a way to grasp the enigma that surrounds life - another connection to the title. The music puts us in a specific state related to the time and circumstances of the creation process. Like a still life, a photograph or a painting that captures the moment, it makes a sound imprint of that particular period of time, which then becomes timeless.” For the five tracks here, each title is a different spelling of Aeon.
Recorded in just one week during Covid lockdown, this work was created through samples routed to Ableton Live. One interesting note is that “…all the synthesizer sounds were designed by the author using digitalized versions of analog synthesizers, processed in various effect chains.”
Right away, Benev’s background as a percussionist is evident, as these tracks have very nontraditional but fascinating rhythmic sounds. “Aeon” begins the work with hushed electronic beats, whale call-style patches and percolating synth rondos. There’s a pattern that becomes apparent, upon which further ornamentation is slowly built. This track definitely puts me in mind of the early Moog synth pioneers. The overall effect is of dislocation in the vastness of time and space, which each note or effect calling out to us briefly before another sound moves in to claim our attention. There’s a saxophone quality to some of the patches toward the end of the piece.
“Eona” builds on the same concept a little more aggressively with the central sounds emulating a string quartet from another dimension. Along with new melodies and sounds, many of the background effects from track one repeat in this section. I found the single chords on the acoustic piano (or a convincing replication of one) especially effective. Again, the mood is somewhat dark and uncertain, while never losing the beat. As the track continues, the repeated elements from track one become more obvious, and feel designed to evoke a never-ending loop with melodic changes parceled out carefully in a minimalist style. An apparent mastering glitch brings the track to a dead stop with a digital snap, something Benev should be able to fix and replace.
“Onae” continues a similar backbeat with somewhat more lush piano chords, as if a Windham Hill artist was caught in an ion-rich vortex. With this track, the balance has shifted slowly toward melodic content and moved away slightly from the electronic assemblages, though it’s never far off. There are some intriguing backward-sounding swells alongside the heartbeat bass and the constant buzzing and wailing. As this track reaches the end, I’m hearing some electric guitar-sounding noises for the first time, though not played in any traditional manner.
“Naeo” feels like another reshuffling of Benev’s sonic deck. By this point it’s clear that each track is not just a continuation of the last, but also variations on a basic theme. The piano is suddenly bright and clear, while the patterns and sounds we’ve encountered thus far seem to have been folded against each other. The keyboard work for the first time becomes a clear marker of Benev’s jazz background, and is the most traditionally musical moment in the work so far. This progression from foggy, buried piano to crisp, upfront jazz chording is an album highlight for me.
The concluding piece “Anoe” is the longest at over 13 minutes. It begins with a cluster pattern of high electronic keyboard notes, before reintroducing the single acoustic piano chords we’ve become familiar with, though the backgrounds feel somewhat different. The beat, as in every other track, continues apace. At about two minutes a patch is introduced that sounds like a bottle pop, while longish shimmers are introduced during short rhythmic breaks. At five minutes the clustered electronic notes, stronger and more emboldened, then give way to a section devoted to a steady beat and acoustic piano. For a time the music begins to feel like a futuristic jazz combo playing at a New Age dive bar. At seven minutes we’re allowed to bask in pure rhythms, before the piano and keyboards make a strident return. I can’t tell whether it was the slow build of the entire piece that caused this, but by this point what I’m hearing feels almost like traditional music, and in other circumstances I might actually be dancing to this track. With a short fade, we’ve reached the end.
I have to say that I wasn’t sure where this work was headed at first, but it was a unique journey and one that Benev pulled off with aplomb. Having played it through, his note about taking in the work as a whole makes perfect sense, and has certainly rewarded this listener.
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