We’re only about a week away now from the one year anniversary of me being completely blown away by a Polish collaboration between Electric Uranus and X-NAVI:ET that took the complexities of sound created by the cosmos and turned them into an album filled with comprehensive compositions dedicated to the great vastness beyond us. At that time, and frankly up until now, it felt like there was little that could be done by any other artist in this manner of applying space science to music to match, or surpass, that very humbling and spiritually intense experience. However, as with the increasing number of exoplanets being discovered and changing the perception of astronomers world-wide on the potential for life in the universe, so too must my perception of the potential quantity of quality scientific, contemporary electronic music change — music that is dedicated in sincerity to the wonders that transcend beyond our fingertips and what we can see into unknowns that lie light years away from our collective, largely destructive human grasp.
With that said, Long Distance Poison are operating on quite the opposite end of what the aforementioned collaboration had accomplished. Where Electric Uranus and X-NAVI:ET sought to bring the beauty and power of the cosmos in to us and make order out of the chaos that was captured in order to reconstruct it into an audible form, Long Distance Poison are simply seeking to project us deep into the universe — extending their trio of gnarled, Moog-driven fingers towards the stars as their creations swirl out into the void — an image inspired by their recent live ritual in which they transmitted their performance into space via a shortwave radio as part of a celebration for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair’s semicentennial.
“Signals to a Habitable Zone” doesn’t simply wish to make our presence known anywhere in the universe, however, though ultimately the possibilities for “where” seem — and are — infinite. This album has a very specific inspiration behind its compositions’ creation — that is, the album is a direct response to the work of astronomer Steven S. Vogt whom, back in late September 2010, many may remember for having discovered the first extrasolar planet to have the potential to harbor life within the “goldilocks zone” (discovery made along with R. Paul Butler). This planet, unremarkably named Gliese 581g for the red dwarf star that it orbits, rotates in a planetary system that includes no less that 5 other heavenly bodies and exists a mere 22 light years from Earth in the constellation Libra — setting in motion a string of connections that the spiritually-minded amongst us may find troubling or liberating on a philosophical level, depending on how you personally connect the dots. That’s a conversation for another time and another article, however.
Needless to say, this is another work of somewhat minimal contemporary electronic music that still takes great care to incorporate many layers and great depth into its humble drones, and it’s no wonder as the trio of musicians in Nathan Cearley, Erica Bradbury, and Casey Block have a strong collective past with the project, having been featured on labels from Thursten Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! to the infamous and prolific Digitalis Limited as well as the newborn yet impressive Constellation Tatsu. The record is composed of two “signals”, one for each side of the record, that clock in at just under twenty minutes a piece and contain music that is driven by the warm, vintage embrace of analog synth. Every second of this release is MIDI-free, which will no doubt be a welcome, soothing realization to many like-minded artists and listeners. Both sides are built around the obvious foundation of multi-layered drones that are textured by sparse, very generalized, non-flashy melodies, as well as sweeping changes in the mix that brings different levels of each harmony to the foreground. Each side contains its own explicit mood, however, with Side A containing rhythmic, pulsating sci-fi qualities as well as a noisy, abrasive bridge, and with Side B seeming to contain a strong element of melancholy through extended, dirge-like passages.
Though neither track comes off as especially psychedelic, “Signals…” comes with a DVD accompaniment that has been created by one of Brooklyn’s finest underground experivideo artists, Matthew Caron; an essential accompaniment that adds an entirely new dimension to the music of Long Distance Poison, at least as it pertains to Side A of the record. The first signal within the DVD contains an infinitely zooming display of quickly moving, almost epilepsy-inducing pastel-colored geometric shapes and notations with an emphasis on symmetry. This is a video that mimics the journey through stars — as we near the lines that create the shapes ever-closer, new shapes emerge, what were once simple details become all-encompassing images of their own, and in response we can only continue to reach deeper into the infinite vastness. The video for the second signal somewhat confirms the dirge-like presence that I perceived on the second side of the DVD, infusing a monotone, grey, organic and Earthly atmosphere into the track. Instead of mathematics, we’re confronted by our own natural world and the creations of man before falling into a distorted world of all-out psychedelia that, while it takes us out into space, also features a very bleak atmosphere.
Lastly, there is one more piece of this album that is very unique that is, in many ways, very difficult to decipher. Each record comes with a large (35 1/2″ x 24 1/4″) blueprint/schematic that displays the directions for building a setting in which one can more accurately transmit the signals contained within the music to a habitable zone somewhere in the cosmos. It’s not said that this is a necessary undertaking to transmit the signals, but it does add yet another element to the record — strangely enough, a religious, Christian element, that requires a bible to be opened to Ezekiel 1:22 opposite of the listener.
Ezekiel 1:22-25: “ Now over the heads of the living beings there was something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal, spread out over their heads.  Under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward the other; each one also had two wings covering its body on the one side and on the other.  I also heard the sound of their wings like the sound of abundant waters as they went, like the voice of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army camp; whenever they stood still, they dropped their wings.  And there came a voice from above the expanse that was over their heads; whenever they stood still, they dropped their wings.”
Whatever implications this holds for the listener seems to be completely left up to interpretation. This single reference is ambiguous to the point that it has the power to completely change the intent of the musicians behind the record, or could simply hint at what they believe could exist on Gliese 581g. Whatever their intentions, it is certain that there is a spiritual level to “Signals..”, abstract as it may be. This might be one of the most comprehensive and complicated drone-related releases of the year, and though that doesn’t always automatically equal quality, it is certainly the case here. Though the blueprint could have been more professionally created, it is a unique piece of an incredibly complete work of art that encompasses the heart of artistic passion through the spiritual, the academic, the intellectual and the imaginative. The whole package is a testament not only to the band, but to the length that Fin Records is willing to go to, to create unique, collectible and deluxe releases that stand in respect as a dedication to the artist featured within.
A final thought: The project’s own title brings up an interesting consideration for the human condition. Many of us have long considered our own species to act much like a virus. While I’m almost certain that the project isn’t saying in their own way that we are a poison, I can’t help but feel that the connection, whether conscious or not, is there in some form. We are inherently violent. We are empirical, and it only makes sense that those of us that are paranoid that we would be abruptly conquered by a race of extraterrestrials feel so because we see those qualities in ourselves as a species. In a way, by sending messages to a habitable zone, perhaps we are indeed spreading “long distance poison.”
Side A: Signal I
Side B: Signal II