Gemlux is the twelve-track tape debut by Cian aka Kevin Altamirano, released in February 2014 on Mexico City-based Umor Rex Records, available to purchase and stream at Bandcamp,with purely digital versions being available on iTunes and cohorts. Cian has been a musician for a longer time, but up to this point has not relased a tape, so in a way, this is a debut alright. The producer is, as it turns out, a luminary in the fields of numbers, as is a certain Scottish duo who favors the turquoise part of the blue spectrum. However, Altamirano is also a mathematician, and it is here where an affection for numbers means serious business. Now I am invited by Umor Rex’s Daniel Castrejón to write a review about Gemlux, knowing fully well that I tend to schlep myself forward between purposefully cloudy phrases and accidental precision. Hilarity might ensue, but this is not what I am intending to achieve, for Cian’s Gemlux has its characteristics boldly engraved in its title, although it does not reveal the whole truth (and neither will – let alone can – I). Gemlux is what I will tentatively call a sparkling gem. Indeed, the lux part of its title can both insinuate various structures awash with light (lux) and the luxurious amount of retrogressive synths stacked together in order to realize superstructures girdled by reverb, decay and more often than not anything at all. Gemlux is a Glitch-accompanied version of Krautrock-infused Space Ambient created in postmillennial times. Harboring these different styles which are warmed by the California (duh) Columbia University’s sunrays, the artist’s workplace, here is a meticulous look at all twelve movements. 


Blue like the line screen of a C64, Gemlux basks in cobalt tarns. Photo by Daniel Castrejón.


It is strange when the opener is already some kind of centerpiece, not just due to its magnanimous track length, but even more so due to its feisty synth layers which ostracize efflorescence in favor of fluorescence. Date And Time is the gateway to Cian’s sparkling case study. The outer rim of its incandescent pith is already luring, transformed into music via Ambient’s most-often used tool, the fade-in effect. It is true that I am usually wary when it comes to this moss-covered formula, but it helps this particular blueprint (or cyanprint) to let the listening subject fathom the room, the sudden, highly paradoxical gravitas amid the lofty nebula. Bolstered bass billows and heterodyned haze helixes present the bewildering co-occurrence of thermal iciness. Cautiously dissonant neon strings float through the ether, their rectilineal physiognomy functioning as the golden diaphanous thread. Textures and surfaces are stacked onto each other, glued together, meshed in tandem; a polylayered trip. The follow-up Symmetrize Canons is not interested in multifaceted euphony and rather favors bleep-infested, enormously cauterized dark matter sinews akin to the SID 6581 sound chip of a certain computer. Naturally, its technical limit of three simultaneous voices is of no importance here, as Kevin Altamirano grafts several splinters onto each other, lets them rotate, spiral and gyre until a bit-crushed dystopia in the veins of Blade Runner is erected.


The third track Gemlux Haze superimposes hibernal Glitch crystals and scything scrapes with winds of laceration before an opalescent benignancy is sewn into the ablaze radiance, with Cs 30 Harm shifting its shape in a similar way by launching mucoid low frequency bubbles whose reverberated pitch rises to face a coruscating synth setup. This is one of Cian’s pieces where the sterile darkness is as important a part as the pointillistic particles. Recurrent Decay meanwhile gets rid of this vesiculating blebs, or so it seems at first. In fact, the music box-like melody is indeed based on polka dots, but the advertized decay lets them appear somewhat languorous, as if they were hailing from the background in order to let the echo become the actual star. This is the fairy tale tune of the album, surreal and with its contrast reversed: what should be in the center is put to the back, and vice versa. The next tune Caer, however, takes the cake, as its creator has only one goal, and that is to enchant the innocent bystander for good. Fans of cyberspace constructions and veneered virtual realities will rejoice when Caer first hits their cochlea, followed by their glabella. This is synth music par excellence, seraphic and wraithlike, yet freed from New Age vestiges à la huge reverbs and wideness. Arcane and mystic, with its frequencies bent and warped from time to time, Caer feels like an epiphany and is – ignore the stale aftertaste that is about to materialize – Cian’s most accessible track.


In the meantime, Spora vaporizes, and I am not sure whether the complete break of the album’s endemics is a good idea, as a field recording graces the tune, letting organic real-world substances enter the elysian antrum. They seem superfluous and feel like antimatter. Luckily, the collage of bubbling noises, steamy cauldrons and alkaline substances continues unharmed. What reads like a turmoil sounds unexpectedly soothing… and seething. The finale sees the fusillade of flecks increased, sure, but the path to this state is no less joyfully alienating as The Orb’s infamous Pomme Fritz (1994). While the shorty Flvx VII condenses icicles and snowflakes to make its tiny runtime worth it, Zwei PS is a wonky Glitch ballad carried by an inebriated stylophone which stumbles and tumbles forward to face its end of existence. Does Gemlux tend to be more murky in its latter state? No, since Swia (Wow & Flutter) paints a royal blue cavern with an astutely fluttering afterglow and desiccate legato adjuvants whose argentine gestalt reminds of lanthanum. Bon appétit! Sendero Luminoso is the penultimate offering, and a strikingly amicable one it is, too. An angelic melody is played on warm synth pads, but ameliorated by a tumular rotation that reminds of a stokehold romance full of heating loop recirculation pumps. The amount of cacophony is kept to a minimum which results in a mellifluous last step before the actual apotheosis, the subcellular freeze fizzle called Siete. Spluttering, piercing and pinching, it elbows its way to the exit, thereby letting Gemlux underline its multiplexed coldness.


A mathematician doing an Ambient album, shiver, this ought to be a complex affair. And shiver the listener might indeed, but only due to the carefully placed and envisioned Glitch globs that grace many of the formations, with the other important column being that 70’s synth atmosphere. Call it the Düsseldorf or Berlin School, place it near Arizona or Colorado whose natural architecture drives many an ethnic New Age work to this day, Gemlux is prone to present yesterday’s artform for today’s listeners. The textures and surfaces are stacked onto each other, glued together, meshed in tandem. The result is as spacial as it is spacy. Warmth is never amiss, although it is curiously enough many of the more enigmatic pieces that are much warmer than the occasionally IDM-inspired moment of (accidental?) comic relief that is placed in polyhedron seesaws such as Zwei PS. So what could be a catchy term or description that circumscribes the manifold intrinsic qualities of Gemlux? I have not been asked to provide one, but to me, it comes down to this: Cian’s Gemlux presents an augmented fragility. What the heck does that mean? It refers to Kevin Altamirano’s specific arrangements. Their texture and pitch resemble iciness, thinness and ephemerality, but the boosted incisiveness contravenes this notion and only extrapolates the impression of Cian’s heterodox approach. Whenever one thinks of a song’s certain attribute, rest assured that its diametrically opposite foe is on board as well. This is the elemental rule that reigns in-between the plastic boundaries in which the reel is embedded. People may call this a tape. I call it synth sybaritism.


Further listening and reading:


  • Cian’s Gemlux is available to purchase and stream at Bandcamp
  • Umor Rex Records is on Twitter: @UmorRex.




Ambient Review 319: Cian – Gemlux (2014). Originally published on Feb. 26, 2014 at