Back in 2009, Belgian filmmaker Alexis Destoop asked Oren Ambarachi and Stephen O’Malley to provide the score for his short film Kairos. The film itself is a peculiar short concerned with the harvesting of raw time from the desert and refining it into “quantified duration”.
In the film, the processing of time means that there need never be a time shortage again. There are, it says, aeons in reserve. So it proved to be with this project too. After the initial recording sessions, the trio (completed by co-producer Randall Dunn of Master Musicians Of Bukkake) returned to Seattle to continue musing and working on the themes and ideas thrown up during their initial collaboration.
Kairos means “an opportune time” and clearly, this was a key moment for the individuals involved and they have grasped this opportunity fully. O’Malley and Ambarachi, who have collaborated on Sunn O))) albums Black One, Monoliths And Dimensions and Gravetemple are no strangers when it comes to distorting and playing with time. They are capable of making music that is sonically vast and expansive, or if you prefer, the aural equivalent of an aeon.
Nor can Randall Dunn’s presence cannot be underestimated; initially bought in to record and co-produce, he became more integral to the creative process as the project began to grow beyond being a simple score. His deftness of touch keeps these pieces of music on track, drawing out their nuances perfectly. It’s a vital role, because without Dunn, these explorations into the nature of time, being and space could so easily falter.
Those expecting Sunn O))) style colossal low-end riffs will perhaps be somewhat disappointed as this is a much more sedate and ambient work than perhaps might have been expected. There are of course thunderous bass pulses immersed in the musical narrative, and closing track Ebony Pagoda does utilise those familiar guitar tones. But ultimately these songs are subtle soundscapes that rely on repetition and occasionally wired improvisational genius.
It all begins with That Space Between, a song whose introduction sounds like the awakening of techno-spirits. From there it morphs into a laid back jazz shuffle that seethes with concealed menace. There’s a vaguely tribal feel to it as things progress deeper into the heart of darkness, and the spidery guitar parts induce a claustrophobic atmosphere despite there also being vast expanses of space. Temporal, Eponymous evolves the musical motifs established in That Space Between. The guitars are drenched in fuzzed tones and reverb and electronic sheets of noise strike across the rolling panoramas.
It is perhaps Circumstances Of Faith that gets to the thrust of the concept of Kairos most effectively. An exercise in industrial, almost space age drone this is the sound of planetary bodies, colliding and eroding, whilst an android floating in orbit films it on a faulty camera phone. It breaks into a strange tribal-jazz rite half way through, complete with unbridled Hendrixian guitar wails and frazzled electronic circuits. It is here that destruction, creation, evolution and primitivism come together as the trio twist time into all kinds of bizarre shapes.
The switch from the cosmic sounds of Circumstances Of Faith to the sparse introspection of Sometimes should be jarring, but it works wonderfully. Brushed drums scatter behind strands of echoing guitar whilst the vocals of Ai Aso float in a dream around them. Shade Themes From Kairos is an immersive and intriguing work that induces dreamlike states whilst questioning and playing with the nature of time. It is certainly worth investing raw, unprocessed time in exploring.