M-Tronic (Fe 26), 2008
In Blue Beam, Geomatic (Andre Vasiljev and Serge Marinec) has concocted an odd beast. A hybrid of modern electronics and sampled traditional Middle Eastern-style elements, it’s a conceptual work of strong evocative power, despite the disparate elements. Blue Beam is a journey across alien sands; of figures hooded and cloaked roaming sandswept vistas never seen by humans, of rogue nanotech dust storms and hidden temples hiding dormant high-technology behemoths. It’s heady stuff, and pulled off with programming wizardry and attention to detail that are the work of masters of their craft.
The pace of the music is generally slow, but the activity level is high, with intricate patterns of tympany, chime, and tambourine forming the base without becoming too heavy or too dark. Blue Beam is definitely not a beat-driven album focused on 4/4 conventions – in fact, EBM-style bass drums are few and far between. The electronics themselves, composed of buried sweeps and light sequencing, are content to stay in the background, in the shadow of the true focus: a series of sampled pipes, flutes, horns, and strings that waver and tremble with clear eastern influences. Almost all of the eleven tracks (including three mp3 remixes that can be downloaded off the CD) also feature sampled wordless chants and wails that cannot help but evoke the vast and mysterious deserts of Persia and Arabia. In addition to these vocal elements, many tracks (“Holographic Messiah” in particular) contain vocoded mumblings that are often unintelligible – the sound of cybernetic intelligence gone haywire – but when the words can be made out, they speak of “gigahertz frequency masers,” “microwave beam weapons” and “subconscious areas of the brain.” Taken as a whole, it’s a lot to process, but the aura is a heady and complex one; almost paradoxical in its extremes. Blue Beam is the soundtrack for Lawrence of Arabia, set on a far-flung planet in the distant technology-dominated future; here, the darkness comes from strangeness rather than menace.
While the concept is certainly powerful, there’s a downside: the formula rarely changes. From the first track to the last, each plays out much like the one before and the one after. There are shifts in arrangement and detail, yes, but for the most part, the first five minutes of Blue Beam are very similar to the final five minutes. It’s a lengthy album, too, with each of the eleven tracks running between five and seven minutes (remixes notwithstanding), and it does tend to lose a bit of its considerable potency as things progress. A few tracks, like “Dark Technology Ghost” and “Alternate Universe” increase the presence of the electronics, but not enough to really shift the effect.
There is one exception, however. “Beyond the Beginning” is a sprawling work of epic and cinematic scope that breaks the established mold with vivid and welcome flair. The most focused and structured track on Blue Beam, “Beyond the Beginning” shows what Geomatic can do when it steps outside its comfort zone just a bit. The voices here are part of the tapestry rather than the dominating element and the traditional and modern elements work together rather than being in juxtaposition. The drumwork is more beat-oriented, and the backing synths carry more melody and drama. It’s moments like the ones here that show Geomatic in a more diverse light, and the results are spectacular.
In spite of its strict and conceptual nature, Blue Beam is a fantastically realized album. I find it to be a bit too long and a bit too similar, but the curious theme, unique atmosphere and deft manipulation are more than worth the attention of the adventurous listener.