Orto Stro






Deaverchester is the coaxially mellow-stealthy tape debut by Asheville, North Carolina-based guitarist and Drone artist Orto Stro aka Matthew Elias Marx. There is room for yet another person called Matthew on this planet, and so the tape is released on Matthew Barlow’s equally Ashevillian Twin Springs Tapes label in January 2014 in an edition of 50 cassettes available to fetch at Bandcamp. Deaverchester is the label's first artifact of 2014 which marks, as I presume, the year of its breakthrough. Harboring two unnamed long-form compositions of 20 minutes while sporting a mysterious title that could be the name of a real-world location or not, Orto Stro admixes guitar drones in an otherwise magnificently metallic maelstrom of clanging entities, virulent vestiges and droning duskiness. Remarkably soothing despite its cavalcades of noise, Deaverchester is seldom about standstill and adamantly moves forward through various dimensions. So why not tell the story straight from the horse’s mouth (sorry Mr. Barlow)? This is what the label boss and secret ruler of Asheville had to say about the tape in a tweet: “Side A: warm, lo-fi saturated textures; Side B: moving through a schizophrenic sound tunnel.” I won’t disagree with this notion, as it is exactly what the listener shall receive. Since my review isn’t over yet, I am using the upcoming sentences to carve out these erudite thoughts in greater details, for even though the synth-like nebulae and fogs are indeed warm and fuzzy, they have to share their tapetime with harsher elements, the perception of vertiginous movements and dimension-spanning locales. I am all too willed to enter Deaverchester. And I have a slight clue what the name could refer to.


Deaverchester's spheroidal complexion entrapped in angularity. Photo by Sir Matthew Barlow.


I am usually critical of the old fade-in formula that is so conveniently used in Ambient music time and again, year after year, but there are situations where the slowly meandering scheme makes a lot of sense, whether they resemble nascency, prepare the listener for the upcoming flow or by simply constituting the respective pipe dream in a genteel way. Deaverchester’s otherwise unnamed side A either sits on the brink or in-between the cusps of these thoughts, but in lieu of pipe dreams, Orto Stro gives us pipes at the very least. Or the processed version thereof. The guitar-based susurration of ligneous drones and helical tape hiss is some kind of contravention with regard to the things to come, veneered with etiolated legato lutes. It is as if the listener experienced the final rehearsal of a distant orchestra through a vestibule bolstered with beguiling rhizomes of elysian origin. To say it less prosaically: Matthew Elias Marx creates a capsule of shelter. It floats through the earthbound haze, the atmosphere is somnolent and festive, cautiously saltatory twangs protrude the rectilineal drone placenta and willingly impose gaseous micro-melodies. But soon enough, the virtual room turns out to be something else; the pink noise gradually increases, resembling the characteristic fizzle of a gas range, and once the listener becomes aware of it, the adjacent paroxysms become noticeable too.


The archetypical staccato fusillades of a fast train approach the ear, but don’t you dare to expect an encore of Chris Watson’s El Tren Fantasma (2011), for side A ventures into wildcat sceneries: spectral synth coils of wonkiness – maybe a slowed-down Disco coquette? – as well as expectorating mutants and an ever-increasing clattering of the argentine train make the centroid section a rapid ride. The air becomes mephitic and hazy again, even the distinctly metallic shrapnel oscillates between silkened appearances and furious gestalts. The train crosses through the abyss, a cosmic sogginess, the perceived tempo is maintained through high-octane fuel… all the while the earthbound mellifluousness which was introduced right at the beginning still glares like a lighthouse, becoming a strong signal of solace as the screaming mutants and scything dot-matrix printers take over. Like a Hollywood ending, this glowing epithalamic euphony fights off the ferocious brutes and fades out the way it began. As I have already implied: during this piece, the initial fade-in effect, while seeming dull and uninspired at first, turns out to be the erbaceous gateway, the coruscating concupiscence in an infaust turmoil of hellions and scapegraces. And it becomes all the more memorable and trenchant because of it being a fade-in. Dwell one? Well done!


Side B, meanwhile, is just the complete opposite of side A, at least during its infancy stage, thank you very much. Whereas the first track showcases the debasement or disassembly of a whirling shelter and the transmutation of this very train of thoughts into a train ride to hell complete with an epicurean finale awash with healthy light, side B kicks off the reel in the true sense of the word and immediately superimposes a pressure box effect. One hopefully survives the gargantuan earthquake and craggy rockfall. Resembling a slowed-down seething cauldron, this is most likely an elasticized and prolonged field recording… but of what? Glacial wind gusts blow through the rugged shore, vesiculating splinters burst and erupt ad infinitum, wooden prongs resemble the polyrhythmic beat of timbales or timpani. This very pattern is too specific to not reveal the true origin of the field recording by accident: it is the same old train again, but ameliorated by a bleepy 16-bit mirage around the four-minute mark, a first and clever sign of infiltration. Centered in the middle (duh!) of the track, with the train’s clangs, bangs and dangs hitting on the far left and right side of the speakers, Orto Stro revs up the heterodyned metabolism with screeching Dark Ambient licks whose lanthanoid physiognomy turns into aggressive acid as the train progresses through the flaring tunnel.


The good news: since literally everything rumbles and tumbles, the stringed instrument’s aggrieving recalcitrance is toned down as well. Better luck next time (and a next time there’ll be). The apex of side B gets rid of the brazen aorta, quite surprisingly so, as Matthew Elias Marx now reveals the driving factor that was supposedly there all along, but cleverly camouflaged by the stern jumble. That tractive force is based on dissonant organ-oid guitar washes. Eureka! Satori! They are based on the same fir-green material as the golden thread of side A, yet again resembling an orchestra practicing from afar, but now with a Space-Age alloy of eeriness and uncertainty. There are still enough bubbles in place to let this phase feel turbulent, and as if that were not enough, the silvery-inebriated strumming, the bit-crushed low frequency flecks as well as the delicately farcical sirens interpolate the galactic allusions of side A. As side B winds down, Orto Stro is all too willing to unleash discordant organs – anomalous even to their mother – and rounds off the mode of existence with a spiraling whorl of electric guitars and alkaline effulgence. It’s over and… I’m alive. This changes everything! I need to tell everyone of my experience. Someday I will write a review of this inci– okay okay, I knock it off.


Orto Stro’s Deaverchester is, at the end of the day, a train ride. However, since the day never ends within the intrinsic boundaries of a record’s raison d’être unless an artist gives title-related hints or enmeshes respective field recordings which emit this kind of illusion, Matthew Elias Marx’s tape debut is consequentially a train ride through hallucinatory hallways, girdling galaxies, tumular tunnels and sanguine showrooms. Everything buzzes, whistles and rattles. That the Asheville-based artist so cleverly fools the listener by mimicking a perfectly soothing Ambient composition at the very beginning only makes Deaverchester more valuable and cheeky. Both of his movements share the same striking element that I have clumsily depicted as said string-heavy orchestra which is being observed from faraway dimensions, even though it is just one guitar or related artifact that is actually heard. Whatever the real source might be, this leitmotif is interwoven, stressed and processed in different ways on both sides, yet unmistakably recognizable. It is the molten core of clemency, surrounded by antagonistic forces and thunderous superstructures made of steel. Orto Stro is in good company: although it is not its proclaimed goal, Twin Springs Tapes is (also) about the unison between nature and machinery, a key pattern that appears regularly and is interwoven in other tapes such as Riot Meadows’ Natural Circuitry or Opaline’s Flight Patterns (both 2013). Even label boss Matthew Barlow’s and Andy Loebs’ ode to Twin Peaks called Northwest Passage (2013) is closely attached to these aesthetics, if not by means of harmony, then all the more so via shedloads of drum kit-infested cymbalicious industrialism. Deaverchester is about the continuation of this journey, now taking place in a nogahyde-bolstered train through time and space. One of 50 trains is wating for you to enter.



Further listening and reading: 



Ambient Review 311: Orto Stro – Deaverchester (2014). Originally published on Jan. 29, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.