Tholoi are found throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean, the beehive-shaped burial structures dotting landscapes as far-flung as Syria and Spain, many of them repurposed for housing or battle and many more dissolving beneath the elements, lost to history. The tholoi of Tepe Gawra, an ancient Mesopotamian settlement in modern-day Iraq, were thought to serve some sort of ritual purpose. Although the details of those rites have been lost to time, A Rise in the Chalcolithic seeks to reassemble the ancient psychodramas piecemeal, artifact by near-forgotten artifact, and it certainly succeeds. Tepe Gawra’s archaeological obsessions are evident right down to the album’s packaging. Housed in a cumbersome, oversized clear plastic case, the CD and its accompanying cover art seem to have been lifted from some sterile and rarely visited museum. Resembling a reliquary, it gives a vague idea of the concept behind the project, but provides little clue as to how it sounds.
Despite its outward trappings—the album is tagged on Bandcamp as “sacred music”—there’s nothing about A Rise in the Chalcolithic that adheres to the usual “ritual” conventions. No repetition, no muffled chant or drumming; just great, sweeping, revelatory drones that seem to stretch the limits of listening. Though the artist has stated that “each tholoi recording is a passageway,” the sound is too vast to be confined to a small channel: it begins in a narrow passage, yes, but quickly opens into a chasm. Synth drones scintillate, expanding slowly, increment by tiny increment, becoming something vast and shivering before the listener can fully take stock of what’s happening. The build is prolonged and exorbitant; at times, it’s almost too much to bear.
With the shortest of the three tracks clocking in at twelve minutes, one would expect this sort of relentless approach to have worn out its welcome early on in the release, but it’s handled with just the right amount of restraint to avoid becoming excessive or dull. One finds bits and pieces, little artifacts in the dense stratigraphy of sound that become something larger; fragments that, when combined, form something monumental. With a quarter of the instrumentation and cinematic flourishes, A Rise in the Chalcolithic contains a dynamism that rivals Roly Porter’s Aftertime. Far from background music, it commands the listener’s full attention and refuses to loosen its grip.
01) Tholoi, A
02) Tholoi, B
03) Tholoi, C