Viktor Benev is a Bulgarian-born artist, composer and producer currently based in Paris. He states that his work unites acoustic sounds, electronic sounds and field recordings. In 2020 Benev was nominated finalist for the Independent Music Awards, and is co-leader of the experimental Crystal Sound Project along with the jazz trio Via Mavis, which tours throughout Europe. He has also received commissions to compose music for dance performances, art installations and percussion ensembles. I previously reviewed Benev’s 2020 release Aeon here at Divide and Conquer, and his newest work titled Architextures is what he calls “a journey into sound and structure.”
To elaborate, Benev states: “Acoustic and electronic sounds are intertwined with field recordings into audaciously ordered structures. Genre is out of the question, as this album brings together more than one can list. Chaos is not something I’m striving to convey with my compositions. For me, music has to have a crystalline quality, which transcends the listener to a place that’s safe and good. While some of the pieces rely on complex polyrhythmic structures, others are based on pure melodic material, often colored by analog synth sounds or vocals.” Recording and mixing took place at Enovae Studio in Paris, France, with mastering by Shawn Hatfield at Audible Oddities in Colorado, USA.
Given a cursory listen to these tracks, it’s clear that the vibraphone is one of the star players, which doesn’t surprise me given Benev’s percussion background. Vibraphone is also one of my favorite instruments, so to hear it given almost free rein here was exhilarating. Among the other instruments are a folk guitar, Korg synth, digital piano, marimba and various small percussive instruments. There’s so much going on here that I can’t discuss all ten tracks in detail, so what follows are a few that especially caught my ear.
The first track “Pink And Dirty” has a usual drum and percussive pattern, and is tentatively surrounded by piano, synth and bass. My initial impression was that this felt like smooth jazz but with a lot more going on. Benev says the inspiration for this track came from both Notes With Attachments by Pino Palladino and Blake Mills, and Herbie Hancock’s Sunlight. He also mentions that he doesn’t “synchronize the tempo of the session with the recorded parts” which I think means he doesn’t use a click track. As a result the playing and interacting among the parts has a more human and naturalistic feel. This is a lovely and assured start.
For “Nova” Benev says he wanted to try using dampened sound with cloth on the vibraphone “so I have that soft but still percussive sound.” However, Benev doesn’t dampen all the notes: even while maintaining a rhythmic part, certain notes can sustain and ring out, as with a piano. The track itself has a playful melodic feel with lots of overtones from the vibraphone, making it both musically interesting and something of a trance-inducer (even at just over two minutes). “Beings From Another Dimension” is a somewhat similar composition where Benev processes the vibraphone through an effects chain, inspiring this neo-classical piece. Benev notes that “the processed sound itself influenced the composition and not the other way around.” Regardless of how he did it, this is a magical-sounding piece that suggests a music box in heaven, or a keyboard playing different textures of water.
“Sweet Filter Of Love” was constructed using “a rather long rhythmical loop Benev recorded on acoustic guitar, playing on it as percussion.” As you might expect, using the guitar body in this way gives the beat a “woody” feel. Benev adds several intriguing sounds and notes, held in place by a lush acoustic piano in the center, and later by vocals. Benev explains: “I didn’t want to process (the vocals) through effects. Instead, I chose to modulate and create a filter-type effect naturally. Voice is probably the richest instrument in the world. There’s a part where I scat in some kind of foreign language, inspired by Bobby McFerrin.”
Though the next track “Sparkles” is a classical composition in terms of structure, Benev says it was inspired by fiddling around with his Korg synth and its arpeggiator. Indeed, though played on the vibraphone, this feels very much like a minimalist classical piece “programmed” on a synth or computer, giving us the best of both worlds. The sweep of Benev’s complex yet beautiful melodies is a wonder to behold.
“Aera” is absolutely a headphone track (as most of these are). Benev designed this composition as a “glitch-based tune with complex polyrhythms playing throughout, mostly made out of pitch-shifted samples which at a certain point collide with the acoustic sound of the vibraphone and the rhythmical synth pads.” This is certainly an active piece, which again strongly avails itself of Benev’s percussionist skills, even in the digital realm. It feels like jazz from the deck of a starship.
In “Chakra” Benev pays tribute to French sitar player and musicologist Patrick Moutal with this raga-inspired track, though he “only exploited the introduction part of a traditional raga.” The main melody is carried by the otherworldly Korg Minilogue, with the background drone carried by a bowed marimba. This track also features clearly recognizable location recordings of water lapping and birds chirping, which at times seem to dovetail perfectly with the music. Another strikingly beautiful track though quite different from the others.
In the concluding “Trails To Eternity” Benev “brings the synthesizer to the acoustic world.” He took time work with the dynamics of the Korg sounds, a step he feels is lacking in most electronic pieces of today. To a layman the sounds have a “percolating” quality, with some notes slowly pitched up or down, or subjected to subtle treatments. In the second half, the music becomes more orchestral, with piano as the primary instrument and synth pads standing in for the string section, “spread around the room to emphasize the movement of sound in the recording.” Benev’s constructions are always clever but here again his melodic gifts are clearly evident.
I was delighted to review Benev’s Aeon and enjoyed this release every bit as much, if not more. Highly recommended!
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