Damnatio Memorae present:
Fri 24 February // 19:30
John Bence employs music as a tangible expression of the immaterial. The British composer’s visceral and spiritual sound world probes the metaphysical. Raised in Bristol’s burgeoning underground electronic music scene and a graduate of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, John Bence manages to employ compositional complexity to manifest potent emotions. Gregorian chant, orchestral arrangements, rippling synthesizers and field recordings are equally at home in his music. Bence’s acclaimed early works focused on the human experience, charting the composer’s own experiences with addiction and alcoholism in both stark minimalism and caustic noise eruptions. Written two years into his recovery, Archangels finds the composer casting his gaze heavenward, sculpting radiant soundscapes that offer a glimpse of the divine.
Bence comes fully into his own as a composer on Archangels, deftly threading together gauzy electronic atmospheres, brooding orchestral passages and minimalist piano meditations; revealing new surprises at every twist and turn. Bence’s composing follows his daily meditation and prayer – creative and spiritual practice woven so tightly that the two became inseparable. Bence transmutes complex theological and philosophical concepts into something tangible and immediate. Rather than ascribing to any one religion or philosophical viewpoint, the composer juxtaposes myriad concepts as he does sonic elements to reveal new insights, crafting a new sonic language to articulate the inexplicable. Archangels’ opening track “Psalm 34:4” evokes “The Fool” tarot card and its promise of opportunity and new beginnings, finding the composer standing at the edge of the next phase of his life post-recovery and stepping off and into the unknown. “Metatron: Archangel of Kether” and “Gabriel: Archangel of Yesod” both draw inspiration from Damien Echols’ Angels and Archangels. Echols’ book would sit open on the desk as he drew from the Archangel into the work. The reference equally demonstrates how Bence’s work fits into the larger picture, with Kendrick Lamar also drawing energetic links to Metatron and Gabriel in “Family Ties.” Closing triptych “Anu/Enlil/Enki (The Way of Anu)” explores cosmic processes of death and rebirth through the Hindu holy trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. Each immersive, yearning movement in the album manages to be evocative and probing without ever being prescriptive.
Bence’s work excels at creating a space for contemplation. “Metatron, Archangel of Kether” pushes Kill’s sepulchral arrangements to dizzying new heights, shifting from sacred chant and crackling distortion through to an ominous drum march. “Tzadkiel, Archangel of Chesed” elevates solo piano to similar emotional impact, reflecting Tzadkiels Merciful nature. “Raphael, Archangel of Tiphareth” vaporizes the composer’s orchestral arrangements and haunting vocals into airy, shapeshifting soundscapes which reflects the angel’s healing energy in Kabbalah. Bence’s entirely modern compositions are atmospheric, creating space with their creative instrument use and contemporary electronics. Following in the footsteps of pioneers who used existing ideas and equipment to establish entirely new sonics, Bence defies compositional norms and forges new pathways through philosophical composition and electronics. Archangels is a compelling addition to contemporary composition by an artist unbound by classical traditions.