Nicolas Bougaïeff's Disorienting 'The Upward Spiral' Will Leave You Wondering Which Way Is Down
Published Jul 22, 2020If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? Or, more to the point, what if all that can be heard is the sound of trees falling to an impossibly complex rhythm, accompanied by the occasional wail of a chainsaw, but there was never a forest that anyone was aware of? The experience of listening to Nicolas Bougaïeff's latest work, The Upward Spiral, is a bit like being on an amusement park ride that is moving through tunnels, enchanted forests, space stations, construction sites and busy city streets. The sound can change suddenly and dramatically within a song and the complexity of the rhythms gives a sense of discontinuity.
This is not music for meditation and relaxation. It is not even music to get comfortable to.
Bougaieff is from Quebec but is now based in Berlin. Both of these places have complex histories and and, not coincidentally, thriving electronic music scenes. Bougaieff brings influences from classical, rave and the avant-garde to his music.
There is very little melody on The Upward Spiral; the sounds are more like drilling, sawing or machines beeping than traditional instrumentation. Exceptions are "Nexus" (which would not be out of place in a soundtrack of a fantasy movie), "Flying High" (which is dreamy and surreal), and the final, cautious-sounding refrain on "Listen Carefully to the Heart Beat." Mostly, the album is composed of sounds that, while human-made, do not always sound like sounds humans would make intentionally — but rather as by-products of other things humans do, composed with the intentionality of someone influenced by Tchaikovsky.
The result is a kind of zombie-like presence of a musician who is anywhere and nowhere at the same time. (Mute)