Amir Abbey put a quiet exclamation mark on 2020 with Embers, as Secret Pyramid, a rich, flowing ambient saunter that continues to move me in surprising ways. Abbey turns a different trick with the first release under his own name, Dast. Across four engaging, minimalist pieces, Abbey pushes and explores the sonic capabilities of the santur, an Iranian hammered dulcimer. The results are surprising.
Archaic tones spill out from the opener, “Dota,” an undulating resonant siren droning against the dust permeated with grating sonics. Single notes ring from the murky undercurrents, almost jarring but slightly dulled by the overwhelming resonance. Abbey’s use of spatial location for each tone is exceptional, adding an immersive effect to the explorative piece. This sounds like music unearthed during an archaeological dig; a warning sound to not go beyond the doorway, to not pierce the darkened veil. The subtle shifts in pitch and volume intensify the uneasiness as the feedback grows in stature and the ending creeps up quickly.
Each piece on Dast has its own distinct disposition, but together they tell a different story. Where the title track hangs heavy, dragged down by decades of accumulated debris, “Lily” is spectral, hovering above the decay. Abbey lets each quick succession of notes float in the powdery air, a layer of hiss obscuring the higher frequencies like camouflage against clarity. The contemplative passages ring through the hollowed-out ground, guideposts for anyone following, a beacon for anyone lost. At the midpoint, Abbey angles off into microtonal dissonances layered on each other, mimicking the stratigraphy of the decomposing hillside. Each droning slab increases the pressure as feedback tries to escape the leaden gravity. This is dense, impenetrable music.
Considering the buoyant, balsam nature of Abbey’s work as Secret Pyramid, Dast is bold. Using the santur as a platform to push his work into completely new zones is smart. It gives a focus that he uses to veer off into ever-expanding aural environments. These experiments are deep and need room to roam. Once these sonic missiles land, however, they cascade into a miasma of alien sounds ready to devour.
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