Discourses of the Withered was originally released in 2008 and was the first proper release from Celer. In fact, the Norman Records review for the original 2008 release, notes with delight that Celer may release two albums that year. Little did we know. Here we are in 2012 and Infraction has re-issued the album as a limited CD with an expanded version of “The Separation of the Two-phased Apple Blossoms” and a previously unreleased track, “Retranslating the Upside-down Mountain”, which was from the Discourses sessions. Remastering duties are credited to Chihei Hatakeyama. What’s pleasing to see is the album is still as otherworldly and mysterious as it was in 2008.
Opening song, “This Thinking Globe Exploding”, comes at the listener in circular waves with the sounds drifting in and out of focus, almost like the soundtrack to watching an entire sleeping planet pivoting on its axis. It’s an incredibly confident first piece: barely moving, patient, yet always on edge. Something about the music is painfully human, yet also otherworldly.
Second piece “The Carved God is Gone; Waking Above The Pileus Clouds” begins with a synth swell that rises and then echoes off into infinity. It’s almost like the phrasing was designed to give us the lift of those spiked arpeggiated chords and then leaves a void so we can hear the vapour trail that comes after. It’s strikingly moving for such a minimal phrase. But, like that first composition, there is an almost airy, earthy feel to the music, as if it moves right through the listener. This pattern persists for so long that those synth chords begin to feel a vital as the air we breathe. Then other sounds enter: cold and mechanical, yet somehow driving home that essence rather than acting in conflict with it. Then the sound of human voices enters – are these protesters? The voices sound loud, resistant, defiant, as though in conflict. It’s an interesting subversion: humanity does violence to the mechanical world, not the other way around. Suddenly this calming song feels emotionally turbulent, uneasy. Immediately after, the song shifts completely. It’s an interesting spin: as if the human has interfered with the mechanical/technological world to create imbalance.
“The Stargazing Lily Lacks the Flower” evolves into something more fragile than the first two pieces. It is not built around the same feeling of waves hitting the listener, but feels like a pulse that blends highs and lows to capture the tension between the clinical and the emotional side of the text. There’s almost a sense of comfort despite these opposites in tension. Eventually the highs and lows merge to create something less tense and more naturalistic. It’s a wonderful drone that again feels vital, but somehow more human. Again, that tension between the achingly evocative and the coldly mysterious drives the album forward.
“Retranslating the Upside-down Mountain” is the piece of the puzzle that was added in for this re-issue. Interestingly, it is placed in the middle of the album. Usually those “bonus tracks” that come with a re-issue are tacked on at the end like the afterthought they actually are. But “Upside-down Mountain…” serves a purpose here – it makes that pattern of shifting closer than further from that human element more prominent. Specifically, the piece feels like a shift away from that human side to something almost alien and mechanical again. In a way, it’s a call back to the album opener – it’s that sensation of watching an entire world spin all over again. The next two compositions continue this pattern of finding the tension between the human and the otherworldly.
“Delaying the Entropy; In Emptiness, Forms Are Born” wraps things up with a slow wind down, as if the spectacle is ending. And, by now, those dichotomies of otherworldly vs. earthly and mechanical vs. human have come to some sort of balance. And how perfect is that title? You can almost see a Star Child orbiting as those final notes ring out; sure, maybe it’s not the triumph Kubrick painted it as, but it is a much needed rebirth.
And in many ways, that’s what Discourses feels like: the soundtrack to one of those existential space travel movies from the 60s or 70 s (think 2001 or Solaris). Yes, the stories were about a world of machines and otherness, but they also saw space and the technological world as a new plain for humankind to confront itself. They re-positioned the “final frontier” story lines to be about more than man conquering new landscapes, suggesting space was not some “other”, but an external manifestation of some mysterious corner inside of our humanity. But of course, all of this could be one person’s interpretation. The thing is that Celer’s music invites these types of interpretations, even today. Even if this re-issue had waited until 2020, Discourses would likely be just as vital as the day it came out.