While listening to “Heliopause,” a story from an acquaintance of mine came to mind. He was at a house show featuring a project called Astro from Japan – a one- man noise unit singularly focused on everything spacey, sci-fi, and otherworldly. He said the set that night made the house seem as if it were transforming into a spaceship revving up for liftoff. In fact, he feared cops would be called. Not because of the volume level or the raucous audience, but because neighbors might think a supernatural event was occurring across the street.
There is one point on Gustaf Hildebrand’s “Heliopause” where it does feel as if you’re taking off into another dimension. The second track, “Array,” masterfully accomplishes the mission. It does so by combining elements of dark ambient with power electronics in order to create an epic space noise. The track begins with the foundation of all power electronics: an unchanging bass tone. Quickly, it morphs into celestial bell sounds and a repeating sequence from a Numbers Station. Eventually, a dark pulse emerges that shape shifts into a corrosive rhythm.
Sonically, “Heliopause” is a lot like K. K. Null and Lustmord. It is primarily distinguished by electronic music that reverberates endlessly and tends to feature occasional noises like high-pitched hisses, delay feedback, and what can only be described as a scraping a drill across sheet metal. Gustaf Hildebrand’s main influence for his music is astronomy and in particular astronomy’s tendency to evoke a feeling of “what might be out there in terms of unknown places and things.”* Consequently, every inch of the album revolves around aspects of sci-fi and space. All of the twittering electronics certainly conjure up the motif and even the title refers to an obscure theory about the Sun’s solar winds. “Heliopause” is like listening to music inside a planetarium while on a very bad acid trip.
I do have a few critiques of Gusted Hildebrand’s music. As mentioned, his entire output is focused upon astronomy and the feeling of “what might be out there in terms of unknown places and things.” However, that sense of the unknown is completely dashed by the constant use of samples. The music should take you to another world, but these recognizable sound bites root one firmly on Earth. Numbers Station recordings pop up on numerous tracks as does the beeps of Morse code and various excerpts from 40s radio transmissions. There’s also “Nomadic Singularity” which uses a long quote from a physicist about passing through a black hole. And the most overused of all recordings rears its ugly face: Tibetan throat singing and chanting. All of these samples certainly support the theme of the project. Yet, they are extremely hokey and diminish the listener’s ability to tune out into those “unknown places and things.” Unfortunately, these samples completely ruin the album. Hopefully, they will wholly disappear from Gustaf’s work over time as he begins to draw closer to that space he wishes to reach. In the end, “Heliopause” is rare mood music. I cannot foresee it sustaining multiple listens for me simply because space and sci-fi is not my first cup of tea. I imagine other listeners and fans of dark ambient – besides the select few with obsessions similar to Hildebrand’s – feeling the same.
*For more on Hildebrand’s musical ideas, see his interview with Tokafi.