Phirnis / Katarrhaktes






1. The Premise: An Internecine Serration

What a beautiful premise, and surely not exaggerated in the slightest. However, once the duo of Phirnis/Katarrhaktes crosses one’s path, there is an uneasy truth to be discovered in their music, for it is often based on violent Glitch molecules and virulent permutations of horrible experiences, sometimes simulated by means of cajoling chords. The second encounter of Vienna’s Kai Ginkel and London’s Malcolm James McLean on the Fwonk* label is called Apnoea, named after the – hopefully temporary – cessation of breathing, and it mostly affects one’s sleep late at night, when darkness surrounds the innocent sleeper. What a coincidence: the duo’s first meet-up resulted in the album Sleepers, so now we have the ferocious follow-up. Comprising seven tracks, Apnoea is no fully-featured collaboration, even though it looks like it due to its cohesion and stringency. But no, Phirnis and Katarrhaktes agreed on a set of rules, textures and tendencies and then worked on their own in order to augment the nightmare. Piercing protuberances, incisive machine drones, arpeggiated punctilio pericarps, staccato stalactites and debilitating doldrums make for a hopeless photometry poured into sound waves. Here is a closer look at all seven tracks; Phirnis’ offerings are analyzed first, followed by Katarrhaktes’ inclinations.


2. The Philopatry of Phirnis

Phirnis’ tracks of the split release are ablaze with mephitic muons, chlorotic chords and ill-colored lanthanum lakes. This assessment comes out of nowhere, quite strikingly so, against all odds and despite the unison between front artwork and album title. With Phirnis covering the opening slot and the subsequent tracks three, five and six, it turns out that Apnoea’s basic gist is based on the most gruesome surrealism, one which basks in camphene, with the only colorful splotches and flashes being signs of aposematism, that is warning coloration. Opener Juntaro simultaneously functions as a vignette of less than 50 seconds, a description that is quite fitting, considering that vignettes are usually dark around the edges. In lieu of its exoticism title-wise, Juntaro turns from an acidiophilic flume over a stokehold pressure chamber into a 4/4 paraquat-infused juggernaut. The micrometry of this short topiary is the harbinger of portent, the blithe to rule the endemic epithelia of the album, and granted, Phirnis doesn’t stop here, both stylistically and literally… this has only been the opener after all.


Four Walls is the consecutive continuum of the formerly introduced adaxial alacrity, launching with a similar runlet of electric current, the smell of methylbenzene via grinding bursts and toned down sporophytes. Rotenone drones and pulsatile colchicine thunderstorms ennoble the uneasy lycopod further. Despite the chemical compounds in aural form, there’s hardly a graspable organic matter in this place of steelification. Stillstand 3 meanwhile is not as petrifying as its title suggests and turns out to be a hydrazine-powered plasticizer of an Ambient track. Drenched in static noise and held back in the crepuscular twilight, a loop of a soothing modern classical piano arrangement whose tawny incandescence reminds more of an ignis fatuus or an ogival chirality than a contemplative isle of tranquility. Still, the piece manages to creep the clavicular bone out of the human observer, what with its demotic/demonic dualism. The Lovecraftian lozenge is rounded off by Wie Die Luft Zum Atmen, roughly translatable into like the air we breathe, an unexpectedly aureate aurora of warmly simmering guitar-based telomeres, sweeping swooshes and the occasional discord in-between the adiabatic interstices. Despite its seemingly debonair physiognomy and amicable outing, Phirnis’ interim finale is coated with strychnine, with its licks and twangs resembling nematodes and sarcopenia. This cannot be the light that guides the traveler; it’s a ploy.


3. The catabolism of Katarrhaktes

Neither loop-based nor retrogressive, the three pieces of Katarrhaktes move ever-forward, comprise of retinues of tantamount glitches, pulsating puissance and rhombohedral artifacts. The stylistic choice remains true to form: warbled guitars, riotous ribcages and cursed magnetotails make up the majority of Katarrhaktes’ three comparatively longform tracks, even though there are modern classical elements intertwined as well, sometimes up to the point of taking over the formerly molybdenized Tartarean suprematism and turning it into a less asphyxiating profusion. They Breathe is Katarrhaktes’ debut of the split album and the second track overall. It comes full circle over the course of five minutes, first launching with cryovolcanic splutters and gargling mis-chromosomed guitar-based torpedos, then succumbing to a moonlit piano serenade – the only macronutrient of the track – before the volatile staccato of violent occidants returns and makes a parable out of the scything superconductivity. The only positive outcome? The track title. One is alive after all.


The title track Apnoea follows suit, and it is quite a bit spacier due to its analog complexion of laser-like interferometry, bumblebee-evoking wisps (or was that wasps?) and eerily mellow microlensing. Indeed, this viscoelastic tune doesn’t shy away from uniting sounds and their sustain levels with moments of quasi-silence, only aided by downwards-spiraling lo-freq arabesques. Apnoea doesn’t remain in this state, naturally, and so square lead sirens and superionic circulators round off the multinucleate fovea. This isn’t the ergosphere yet, no gravitational redshift is taking place, for this is the task of the carbonaceous fluid-processed icosahedral Insomnia. Clocking in at over nine minutes, this pulmonary palinopsia is a planetesimal of obliquity and chicanery. Even in its infancy stage, it tries to lure the listener with hollow wind chimes. Were it not for the apoplectic chords of suspense in a parallax stratum, chances are that this endeavor would have been fruitful. What follows is a mesmerizingly fluvio-lacustrine cascade whose ultramafic shape turns eventually sour and leads to a horrific homeostasis of aliphatic isotopes, ventricles and centrifugal amanita in a blip-infested avulsion. Glitch is over.


4. The Aftermath

Phirnis/Katarrhaktes have teamed up a second time in order to carve out the dystopian elements and moxie mica in their halides, and the result is most certainly Ambient-based alright, but with a willfully parochial twist: the frequencies are bent, altered, mutated, with the guitar and piano being the only phylogenetic markers of recognizable instruments. It is only the latter classical instrument which appears in an unprocessed state. Its existence is permitted and tolerated due to the passive-aggressive tone sequences drowned in sorrow, serving as a music-based anhydride, only that it takes away the air to breathe. The darkness is never caulked and gleefully allowed to spread its polyfoil contretemps and hoarfrost. Colors are few and far between, but as stated before, they come as warning signs or reside in dark amethystine or vermillion-based ranges, if the contrast isn’t cranked up and leaves a black/white diffeomorphism. If it weren’t revealed in the press blurb, I could have sworn that this is not a split release but a full collaboration. Then again, it totally is! Both artists have agreed to a distinct mood and formula, with many fibrillar alternatives and iterations to crack open the autochthonous misery. Despite the caproic acid in a few tracks, Apnoea doesn’t even simulate a glint of hope that’s open to scrutiny. Don’t tell it to the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from the unwanted phenomenon.


Further listening and reading:


Ambient Review 447: Phirnis/Katarrhaktes – Apnoea (2015). Originally published on Aug. 19, 2015 at