Zoharum Records, a label gathering a significant roster of artists associated with those scenes commonly bracketed as “post-industrial” (Hybryds, Rapoon, Z’Ev), recently released a new album, Chimera, by Zenial, aka – a composer and sound designer linked to the worlds of experimental, noise and electroacoustic music. Initially a member of the demoscene – an early computer subculture based around transcending hardware limitations – he went on to collaborate with the likes of Zbigniew Karkowski, as well as perform in the glitchy duo Aabzu. And yet the multimedia nature of demoscene output has remained a constant element of his solo activity, in which sound is often conjoined with visual installations or augmented by a conceptual framework.
Chimera, a slightly more accessible successor to 2012’s Connection Reset by Peer, comprises just the sonic elements of works originally intended for gallery spaces and live performance. Its most interesting facet (perhaps of Zenial’s oeuvre in general) lies in highlighting the connection between the digital and the occult. In one of his presentations, he tried to induce EVP (electronic voice phenomena) via a network of interconnected portable cassette players (EVP being the unidentified speech-like scraps of sound sometimes woven into recordings, thought by some to be of paranormal origin). On side B of Chimera, a two-chapter composition, ‘Rosora’ is inspired by hermetic magic practitioner Franz Bardon; on a purely sonic level, the track explores the meditative nature of “mild noise” in a manner reminiscent of Kevin Drumm’s recordings with Lasse Marhaug.
The link has been present for a long time. In Techgnosis, Erik Davis wrote about technologies being a modern vessel for ancient beliefs, suggesting that information and communication technology, especially the Internet, are rife with threads of magick and mysticism. This notion developed in numerous ways throughout the last century. The chaos magick movement of the 1970s claimed to introduce the discoveries of quantum physics into a mystical worldview, thereby making magick a less hermetic, more practical art. In the early days of the Internet, the Reality Hackers (founders of influential magazine Mondo 2000) announced their manifesto, according to which they “use high technology for a life beyond limits”, “use media to send out mutational memes (thought viruses)” and “blur the distinctions between high technology and magic”. Early cyberculture, captured by Douglas Rushkoff in Cyberia, was closely related to the countercultural ferment of the same period, assimilating the ideas of Terence McKenna and Robert Anton Wilson into its philosophy.
Scaremongering preachers may have claimed that rock music was inherently possessed by demonic powers, but beyond a pantomime correlation, it was actually electronic music that became the true vehicle for ideas of magical transgression. The ritual nature of music (and anti-music) was explored by the industrial and post-industrial scenes, in a manner either cathartic (Throbbing Gristle) or meditative (Rapoon, :Zoviet*France:). The ability to evoke altered states of consciousness by means of electronic sound was proven most convincingly by Coil on Time Machines, the experience of which was said to cause “temporal slips”, and displayed the potential of drone music to affect both ear and awareness.
Compared to these declared musical-occultists, Zenial taps the techno-mystical in a subtle, nearly academic way; magickal elements are present, albeit in an implicit manner. His compositions, woven of drones, distortion, buzzing and bleeps, slowly coalesce into shapes in the listener’s mind, like sonic spectres or the aforementioned EVP, and occasionally –as in the case of the title track –gain an near-melodic quality. In this sense, Chimera is more a scientific experiment in the supernatural qualities of sound than the audio equivalent of an occult artefact. Given that creative pursuit itself can be considered the most successful and measurable act of magic (as explained by Alan Moore in Fossil Angels), Zenial’s approach retains plenty of transformative power.
Zenial’s ‘Chimera’ is out now on Zoharum Records
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