Working under the name Tourist Kid, Rory Glacken builds exquisitely complex sonic sculptures that sound as if they’re painstakingly structured from glass and chrome, only to be shattered into a thousand pieces over the course of a track’s duration. There’s a metallic sheen to almost every sound, a crystalline clarity and high-frequency resonance that sounds decidedly 4K – this may be ambient music, but there’s no nebulous clouds of fuzzed-out synthesis fogging up the stereo field.
Each sound and texture is clear-cut, distinct and directly presented, but also in constant permutation: he’ll introduce a timbre or a motif at the beginning of a track that thirty seconds later has morphed into something entirely other, irrevocably altered through filters, effects and manipulations with only with a strand of its original DNA remaining. The sounds are in constant evolution, allowing us to hear an eternally recurring series of permutations of the same sample or synth patch. It’s a level of variation and complexity that demands attention and focus, rather than drifting into the background – another ambient cliche left in the dust.
An obvious comparison to Glacken’s eccentric sonic architecture is Tim Hecker, a Canadian sound artist known for conjuring a similar sense of fractured and distorted beauty through monolithic textures and celestial tones. The difference is that where Hecker’s music often evokes a vast sense of space, effecting a kind of mental zooming-out to behold an immense sonic landscape, Glacken’s does the opposite: it zooms in, laying out multitudes of intricately detailed forms and textures and producing a kind of convoluted abstraction that can be as confusing as it is beautiful.
In this sense, it’s more akin to Oneohtrix Point Never and Visible Cloaks, artists whose music is defined by a sense of disorientation, an aesthetic of unfamiliarity and downright weirdness that’s a testament to their audacious imaginations. Though much of Crude Tracer’s merit lies in such adventurousness, there are moments when the lack of metre and structure, combined with the near-constant evolution of texture and timbre, can prove overwhelming. Consider ‘Variegare’, in which oddly disjointed patterns of percussion cycle in a seemingly arbitrary fashion – there’s a kick, a clap and a hi-hat, but no steady pulse to be found. It sounds like an ambient house track was put through a shredder, its parts rearranged at random.
It’s not all abstraction, though: there are frequent glimpses of humanity and emotion that underpin some of the record’s best moments and make Crude Tracer a lot than just an impressive exercise in technical wizardry and experimentalism. On the second track ‘Learn’, Glacken contrasts a totally unprocessed female vocal with mangled synthesizers and brutal shards of distortion, showing that despite his affinity for sonic manipulation he’s not afraid to leave a sound unaltered. Similarly, in the closing seconds of ‘Know’, a field recording of a conversation drifts into the stereo field, leaving you longing for a little more of this human touch.
Tourist Kid’s music is at it’s best when his abstruse effects and processes are reigned in long enough to allow a deeper focus on a few select elements. He achieves this stunningly in the final two tracks, which have a directness and clarity not found elsewhere on the record: ‘Bacterial’ is built around a plaintive piano figure, swathed in cavernous reverb and gently bathed in a feather-light effervescence of synthesized noise. There’s no great crescendo, only the ebb and flow of the piano’s chords, but the track’s all the better for it.
The same goes for album closer ‘Petrol’, in which aquatic chirps bounce across the stereo field while a celestial pad duets with a subtly processed vocal part, forming a kind of synthetic elegy that’s truly awe-inspiring. In scattered moments like these, you can hear a sense of poignance and humanity pulsating within the music, and what was once enigmatic and artificial at once becomes vivid and real. It sounds like a machine being given the gift of sentience, a robot waking up for the first time to feel the sun on its cold metal hands.
Crude Tracer is out now order a copy on Bandcamp. Stream the album in full via Spotify.
2. Discourse II
6. UV Bleacher Tangent
Discover more about Melody As Truth and Tourist Kid on Inverted Audio.