Vril’s Anima Mundi

If I’m allowed to have favorites, I would claim Vril, the Ger­man DJ and Res­i­dent Advi­sor Lieu­tenant, as mine among his genre, which shouldn’t mean any­thing to the long­time tech­no con­nois­seur (who should prob­a­bly find them­selves skip­ping this review and mov­ing on,) but does lend me to evan­ge­lize to those who’ve been deprived of pos­i­tive expo­sure to the cul­ture. Most any elec­tron­ic music can be trans­portive and my own affec­tion for it can no doubt be attrib­uted at least in part to my near-total iso­la­tion from its com­mu­ni­ty. I have nev­er been to a prop­er club (the only offer­ing in the set­ting of my young adult­hood has nev­er aspired beyond squishy DJs who are now some­how 100% con­tent describ­ing their scene as “EDM,”) and I’ve only had a few friends with whom I could share sig­nif­i­cant inter­est, though their knowl­edge was extra­or­di­nar­i­ly exten­sive. It takes inci­sive wis­dom to cut through “Tech­no” as the mis­nomer it has become in today’s Amer­i­ca — a sub­ject deserv­ing its own, more delib­er­ate dis­cus­sion — but for the moment, let’s con­sid­er a sin­gle record which man­ages to exem­pli­fy the poten­tial of this his­tor­i­cal­ly-niche medi­um.

For years, I’ve been one hun­dred per­cent sure that “Vril” is a prop­er noun, but I could very well have gone on liv­ing the rest of my life nev­er decid­ing between whom or where. Up until Ani­ma Mun­di’s release on Octo­ber 15th (tech­ni­cal­ly it was released last year, but exclu­sive­ly on cas­sette,) his cat­a­log was con­sis­tent­ly Vril — on-brand, you might say — though in the most respectable sense for a dance DJ, I’d imag­ine. I can’t quite recall the moment of dis­cov­ery, but I do know that the dozen or so of his live mix­es avail­able on Mix­cloud caught my atten­tion imme­di­ate­ly after­ward. There’s some­thing mag­ic in the lay­ers that grabs an unnamed rhyth­mic organ of mine in a way that can­not be expressed in writ­ten form with­out expe­ri­ence I do not have. What I can pro­vide is the most com­pre­hen­sive­ly con­cise exam­ple I can find: a live set from the infa­mous Berghain in 2014.

Regard­less if I’m writ­ing, walk­ing(?,) or chas­ing grav­el apex­es, these mix­es always kick me into anoth­er plane, where the pan­ning high hat halos are biased astray by a frac­tion of a degree, delay­ing a false local dis­ori­en­ta­tion akin to the sound of a dozen chore­o­graphed kinder­garten tap dancers’ feet next to one’s head, mild­ly dura­tion-com­pressed. Tech­no as a whole has become quite com­fort­able with the prac­tice of orbit­ing high fre­quen­cy per­cus­sion in elon­gat­ed ellipses around the stereo pic­ture, which I’ve adored and defend­ed since day 1. My hypothe­ses: it’s actu­al­ly a cheap shot for the psyche’s poten­tial desire for jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of their club expe­ri­ence as some­thing tran­scen­dent. It’s a pret­ty easy cheat to keep the listener’s imme­di­ate envi­ron­ment feel­ing expan­sive, reflec­tive, and there­fore mean­ing­ful. I, myself am prob­a­bly drawn to its threat­en­ing aura of immi­nent con­tigu­ous indus­tri­al emer­gency, but again, I’ve nev­er been to Berghain, Lon­don, or Stock­holm, nor has my adult nigh­t­ime recre­ation ever found me in any venue to which one could attribute the term “club” with­out imme­di­ate­ly “chuck­ling. This music has not tra­di­tion­al­ly found its place among lives like mine, and nobody even seems inter­est­ed in fig­ur­ing out why.

It seems like there was a big thirst for these kinds of inten­tions. But the more atten­tion we get, the hard­er it gets to keep those inten­tions up and not get washed away by the per­cep­tion of oth­ers. Who are maybe search­ing for some­thing that some­times seems impos­si­ble to deliv­er.

Vril on Res­i­dent Advisor’s pop­u­lar­i­ty, Invert­ed Audio.

For the hell of it, let’s begin by remov­ing one of techno’s most noto­ri­ous­ly-defin­ing cat­e­gor­i­cal descrip­tors: “dance music.” I’ve done this per­son­al­ly — aside from mod­er­ate head-bob­bing — but I’ve already got a bad habit of mis­con­tex­tu­al­liz­ing music, so let’s focus on our hypo­thet­i­cal tech­novir­gin, Gavin, who thought Bass­necter was amaz­ing in 8th grade, can “some­times fuck with” run-of-the-mill dub­step, plays col­lege foot­ball, and is gen­er­al­ly more seri­ous about school­work than the trashy cam­pus bars he vis­its every oth­er week­end out of a vague desire for female atten­tion. Let’s have faith in Gavin and assume that he doesn’t need per­spec­tive-alter­ing nar­cotics to be intro­spec­tive, but we’ll wait until he’s alone in his shit­ty dorm in the ear­ly morn­ing hours, typ­ing out an Amer­i­can His­to­ry essay on his Mac­Book. He’s in his bed, ear­bud-equipped nog­gin propped uncom­fort­ably against the wall, machine rest­ing on his diaphragm. It’s stream­ing fuck­ing Aphex Twin from some stranger’s Spo­ti­fy playlist, which we’ve hacked. Just after “Win­dowlick­er“ ‘s last, foul moan, we’ll covert­ly begin this invol­un­tary acquain­tance with “Mani­um“ ‘s sim­ple fade-in.

It’s sin­cere­ly seri­ous, con­tem­pla­tive, sci­ence fic­tion-esque, but cer­tain­ly not even as man­ic as the taste­less breast-obsessed num­ber one hit he’s just heard. In fact, the con­trast is so sharp that his atten­tion is agi­tat­ed away from his sen­tence, and he looks off the screen across the room to the door’s elec­tron­ic knob. Accord­ing to whomev­er wrote Delsin’s descrip­tion of the album, Gavin has just unwit­ting­ly set upon “a deep excur­sion for mind and body” — a phrase which would no doubt make him a bit uncom­fort­able, yet here, alone, or per­haps in the back seat of the right friend’s car on a long dri­ve, its acute cau­tion com­pels his mind to con­sid­er the heav­i­est pos­si­ble ques­tion of the moment: some­thing about finals, I would guess. His brow slow­ly scrunch­es in the Word document’s soft white glow. The unchang­ing dis­so­nance from the back­ground synth’s sin­gle chord grows loud­er and loud­er, grad­u­al­ly, before drop­ping briskly, allow­ing for the sim­i­lar suc­ces­sive fade-in of “Stat­era Rerum.”

Lay­er num­ber one is sure­ly a four-sec­ond sam­ple of a dot matrix printer’s oper­a­tion, slowed and pitched-down thir­ty or so per­cent — rem­i­nis­cent of the phe­nom­e­na to which shop­ping cart cas­tors are com­mon­ly sub­ject: a cer­tain speed’s vibra­tion trig­gers a sort of res­o­nant buzzing freak­out. Vril’s sim­plis­tic con­struc­tion con­tin­ues with anoth­er mechan­i­cal lay­er, then panned pul­sar synths which ebb and recede in lazier loops across the spec­trum. By now, Gavin is on his way back to real­i­ty and has final­ly begun alt-tab­bing by the last few sec­onds of track 2. Just as he finds and restores his Spo­ti­fy win­dow, it has end­ed, and the album’s title track begins. His inves­ti­ga­tion is stymied for a beat by the iden­ti­cal track and album meta­da­ta, but he’s still curi­ous enough to search the album out after fig­ur­ing it out. Since this is a hypo­thet­i­cal world, let’s make it just a bit bet­ter and assume Ani­ma Mun­di’s Band­camp page is the first result returned by Gavin’s search engine with its brief, but gor­geous motion graph­ic pro­mo video, which he allows to play par­al­lel with track 3 on Spo­ti­fy since it’s less than 30 sec­onds.

The result­ing cacoph­o­ny is unlike any­thing he has ever heard, and — prob­a­bly in reac­tion to his essay topic’s inabil­i­ty to stim­u­late him what­so­ev­er — its some­what extend­ed bat­tle cry elic­its suf­fi­cient intrigue to keep his atten­tion from stray­ing fur­ther. It’s a lucky thing, too, because the rework of “Riese” (lit­er­al­ly “giant”) is up next, and it’s the most pro­found and unex­pect­ed groove on the whole record. It’s rhythm­less, reflec­tive, and very cin­e­mat­ic in a sim­i­lar (but far far supe­ri­or) doc­trine to Hans Zimmer’s use of sim­plis­tic, swelling har­mo­nious chords to blast audi­ences’ emo­tion­al intel­li­gence to smithereens behind films like Michael Bay’s Pearl Har­bor and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. Accord­ing to Invert­ed Audio’s review, its notes “lose their dis­so­cia­tive feel­ing for some­thing a bit more inti­mate and in turn gain even more emo­tion­al pow­er over the lis­ten­er.” Essen­tial­ly, it’s real gor­geous, though Gavin’s not quite in a vul­ner­a­ble enough state to be moved to tears. So far, Ani­ma Mun­di has been almost entire­ly sep­a­rate from “tech­no” as it is com­mon­ly defined, but it’s clear to even the most casu­al fan of the scene that it’s def­i­nite­ly an adden­dum, not aban­don­ment. I could be wrong, but as a fan of Vril’s, I’ve found the four tracks Gavin’s heard up to this point feel almost like the end­notes to the more brisk, pur­pose­ful melod­ic and rhyth­mic iden­ti­ties formed in Por­tal, his first album, along his years of live club arrange­ments. If I were to be a bit bold, I’d sur­mise that Vril could con­sid­er Ani­ma Muni an artis­tic dec­la­ra­tion: just so you know, I am a lot more than just the guy behind the booth — I am a “world soul.”

I’m afraid it would be dis­hon­est of me to extract a hap­py end­ing from my der­riere for this hypo­thet­i­cal of ours because of a sin­gle word in track 5’s title with tru­ly awe­some pow­er among the Youth of Today: ani­me. In Spring 2017, I record­ed Future­land’s most enter­tain­ing episode with my good friend Tevin, who hap­pens to be a beau­ti­ful bridge between fra­ter­ni­ty cul­ture and Japan­ese Ani­mat­ed Video Con­tent, yet lacks faith in the former’s chances of pro­gress­ing much at all, going for­ward. Gavin has prob­a­bly been exposed to ani­me once or twice, but for him, it’s unlike­ly to ever become any­thing but a punch­line. “Infini­tum Eter­nis Ani­me” means (rough­ly) “infi­nite eter­nal soul,” and it’s the record’s first amal­gam of rec­og­niz­ably tech­no ele­ments (for which I do not know any of the industry/jargon terms, so do for­give my lack of detail.) It’s a shame Gavin won’t give it a chance because it’d like­ly serve as an effec­tive gate­way drug for a more sophis­ti­cat­ed nightlife, but I’m sure you were get­ting awful­ly tired of him, any­way. To cite Invert­ed Audio’s Will Long once more:

Each one of the tracks from the ‘Haus’ EP works even bet­ter in the con­text of the full record. “Haus” gets an even smoother, more melod­ic rework; “Riese” is also more melod­ic in con­struc­tion with the beat stripped away in favour of more reverb and sus­tained notes. They lose their dis­so­cia­tive feel­ing for some­thing a bit more inti­mate and in turn gain even more emo­tion­al pow­er over the lis­ten­er.

Though his com­par­i­son of Ani­ma Mun­di to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was quite crude, I can obvi­ous­ly con­cur with some of his oth­er lan­guage, like “future clas­sic,” and “buy on sight.” As much as I’d like to fur­ther indulge my own analy­sis of the rest of the 80 minute work’s tracks, one-by-one, let me just con­clude by dot­ing on my per­son­al favorite track, “Sine Fine.” With­out resort­ing to the word “ambiance,” I can’t say much, but — above all — it’s Track 10 that takes me to The Vril Place in which I have always felt so intrigued and com­fort­able. Buy Ani­ma Mun­di right fuck­ing now.