Dino Spiluttini & Nils Quak
Modular Anxiety






Modular Anxiety is a split release of ten tracks, six of them composed by Vienna-based guitarist and Drone anarchist Dino Spiluttini, with the other four envisioned by multi-instrumentalist Nils Quak from Cologne. Released in January 2014 on the Mexican Umor Rex label in a limited edition of 300 vinyl discs – 170 of them golden – as well as a digital download version at Bandcamp, the album is tightened by the very corset it is willfully and all too luckily vested in. A split release is still a tastefully peculiar affair. Two artists share one disc or virtual space, duh. But the term implies much more than just that: split releases by tendency carve out the purposed discrepancies between the partaking artists, the diametrically opposite direction thereof, or suggest a topic which is about to be brought to life by the visionaries. Modular Anxiety is, first and foremost, a very harmonious release arrangement-wise. Close your eyes, shuffle a track, and in the first moments, it is comparatively difficult to pinpoint the artist even in the face of a 50% chance. So coherence and stringency are one important part of the formula. The other particularity is given by the topic, said Modular Anxiety. These two words are distilled from a track of each artist. And anxiety the listener shall face and develop on account of the modularly stacked offerings, be they mild-mannered or not. Instead of truly horrifying Dark Ambient compositions or remote mutations, the ten tracks multiplex processed guitars, heterodyned superimpositions of grayness and interstitial reverberations. Melodies are few and far between, usually not hummable, drone serpentines waft through the atmosphere. Machines produce a life-threatening heat, thickness and thinness meet, mesh and depart. The mid-century modern front artwork does not prepare the listener in the slightest of what he or she has to wade through. The liner notes may be focused on the differences between Spiluttini and Quak. I do not disagree, but review Modular Anxiety from a different angle, namely one that focuses on their similarities and shared developments, whether they are radiated by their chosen instruments, Glitch globs or droning by nature.


Anxiety. That’s it. In lieu of a descriptive adjective, a shrapnel of opprobrious fusillades greets the listener. Each sphalerite bullet basked in aural thallium before it is presented in Dino Spiluttini’s opener. Depending on the listener’s mood, the argentine staccato could well be considered alacritous, especially so since its metallic afterglow harbors moments of hazy soothingness on the one hand, and encounters several pitched Rave-related states on the other. Even if it is just a mere figment, it is enough to make the salvos become bearable. Indeed, this particularity is the standout feature of Anxiety, but there is more to – and in – it: viperous sine drones of the ophidian kind, billow-like tide-and-flow formations which allow the listener to sense the balance between sound, sustain and silence. The track’s crest gives a hint of the things to come, serving as both an antidote and antipode. I call it fragile mellowness, for the following Crawling revs up the genteelness without succumbing to charming euphonies. Resembling the gestalt of a pearl necklace (don't laugh, sonny!), Dino Spiluttini’s movements are circular, mercurial and fugacious. From sudden eruptions made of processed guitars over powdered Baroque harpsichords to tramontane vestibules filled with fresh air, the stop-and-go motion of Crawling is energizing, bubbling and bursting at the seams. Notwithstanding this turmoil and tohubohu, the centric fluxion seems like a sinecure, having no say in the girdling helix of chaos, but still holding everything together like a golden thread… or said pearl necklace. Downer then smoothes the spasmodic soothingness and moulds it into a proper Drone track with no pesky protrusions. The bass guitar is deep and profound, the golden strings interpolate the ecclesiasticism and make this tune a solemn sanctuary of equilibrated amounts of bliss and melancholy.


Meanwhile, Theme For A Bleak Life enmeshes the brazen humming of stokehold machineries with quasi-organic nebulae. The result is decidedly synergetic and potentially contradictory, since the faraway guitar (or cello) chords are aglow and warm, yet veneered with raspy stubbles that are upheaved in the mephitic air. Torn between a manmade dungeon and an enigmatic cave, the Vienna-based artist envisions a parallax layering with distant drones and omnipresent friar’s lanterns. The atmosphere is heavy, the implied bystander seems to be petrified and paralyzed in this cocoon of sultriness. Wallow Wallow is the counterpoint in this regard, but similar enough to resemble a close attachment to its preceding artifact. Planned desiccation leads to gentler, more cauterized guitar formations which imply a place of shelter. Whereas tracks like Crawling and Downer camouflaged their industrial pipes, Wallow Wallow is about a different sort of pipes: pipe dreams. Dino Spiluttini’s final track is called Weak Love, a longer piece in the given context which introduces an ingredient that is new in the intrinsic happenings, namely a whitewashed pink noise hiss. This granular coating sweeps around frilly square drops, aqueous clangs and glistening guitar licks. The mood feels bright and pristine, emitting an iridescence that could best be described as a turning point. This most appropriate of all descriptions is coincidentally the worst one, as this is the last track. Spiluttini ends his six-track journey with clemency and lenience.


Do not expect the same kind of indulgence in Nils Quak’s four-track abode, even though his opener No Dreams almost pushes one to believe just that. Bathing in inconsistency, being similar to a skeleton of crosspurposes, the track title mocks the soundscape it is attached to, for things start with a pseudo-reverie: heater blower airflows of several pitches meet 8-bit bass susurrations, bubbling rockfall scents and a dismal claustrophobia-fueling set of melodious vestiges. Once the end is nigh, Quak admixes alkaline scythes and blisters, hints of electric current and the toned down high tension which is so successfully hidden qua the palette of hatched colors. A long-form critter of over seven minutes follows. Called Octagonal Journey, it shows its piercing pride right from the get-go, emitting Dark Ambient guitar chords of the cosmic kind. Unreal uneasiness and eldritch erethism unite, as the artist from Cologne fathoms and worships larger durations of silence and quiescence only to then inject hazardous spikes of calcined harmonica-oid sine tones. They twirl, tumble, pulsate in rotatory movements. The result is not histrionic, as there are clefts of rectilineal affability scattered throughout the runtime. But the principal impression remains unchanged: Octagonal Journey is edged, polyhedric and strikingly shriveled. The third track Tropic Spirals is not your archetypical verdured vintage vista, but features rhizomes from Jericho. Feisty, fleshed out and just a tad short of being megalomaniac, the unchained tendrils are moss-grown and hail from another era. The mood is hard to pinpoint; the textures of the drones are glowing and send out warmth, the tones, however, are dithered, hiding their shady cores behind epitheliums of friendliness. Tropic Spirals remains a warm track in the end, with the apotheosis Duet For Modular Brass being a Third Stream Avantgarde piece of kosmische coils, brass bursts entrapped in AM radio frequency benders and an overall Cool Jazz approach of labyrinthine eclecticism. The alloy of darkness is as depressing as the forceful convolution. An alienating affair.


Modular Anxiety is a Drone album of ill-natured components by design. This is its real pith in a nutshell. It is also a superbly working split release, as both artists share so many stylistic similarities and textural resemblances that I feel the urge to ask the same questions as during my encounter with Aaron Martin and Christoph Berg‘s split release Day Has Ended (Dronarivm Records, 2013): did the artists know about their works during the production periods? Did they even share some chords or stems? What was their initial focus or mood? Questions like these do not serve a purpose per se, they just showcase how successful a split release Dino Spiluttini and Nils Quak’s Modular Anxiety is. If I were to write highly different things about each artist’s reserved locale and presentation, this would not be a properly elaborated split dob. The craftsmanship in the setup and arrangement is also found in the album’s endemics, although things are not as translucent and luminous as they could have been. The mysterious movements and organic entities of Modular Anxiety seem to suffer from their entrapment, depicting despondency, spawning sinisterness, alluding asphyxia. Blazing heat and ardency reign, but they do not translate to tropical moisture, no matter track titles such as Tropic Spirals. The warmth and diffuse air is more often than not caused by machines as created by the artists’ guitars. Cleverly processed, with their frequencies bent, ameliorated and diversified, Modular Anxiety gyrates around mild fear, cautious optimism and ferocious ostracism. Drone, Space-Age, even sparks of Jazz unite, sometimes forcefully so. A multifaceted conglomerate full of antagonistic structures and mobbed-up capsules of glee, it is tailored to skilled listeners – no offense intended, no expulsion implied – who want the post-processing or live processing of the stringed instruments and their brass brethren to have a common ground and aesthetic meaning which serves an overall purpose. But which one? Dunno. But I feel my modular anxiety grow.



Further listening and reading:

  • Modular Anxiety is available to order at Thrill Jockey, Morr Music and at Bandcamp.
  • Nils Quak and Umor Rex Records are on Twitter: @nq_music & @UmorRex



Ambient Review 309: Dino Spiluttini & Nils Quak – Modular Anxiety (2014). Originally published on Jan. 22, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.