Arco Trauma’s longstanding Sonic Area solo project stands in stark contrast to the noise and fury of Chrysalide, especially to those of us who discovered the latter first. Releases like the collaborative record between Trauma, Architect, and Hologram_ and 2016’s Eyes In The Sky have brought together downtempo, dark ambient, and classic analog synth arrangements all while placing a premium on atmosphere, timbre and sound design. But new record ki takes that principle to an extreme, paring compositions down to the barest of elements.
Taking inspiration from the titular energy believed to unite and power all life in Taoist and Buddhist practice, Trauma’s honed in on a sparse but exquisitely designed set of samples and field recordings from which ki‘s compositions emerge. Lightly clicking and echoing chimes and percussion slowly come together, forming stuttering but hypnotic grooves connote microhouse and clicks & cuts tracks as much as they do the Japanese folk traditions from which much of the instrumentation is taken. Arguable centerpiece “Lotus” shows off the potential of ki‘s minimalist ethos, building drama by pressing a drone that modulates between a classic Ant-Zen sweep and a wooden door creaking against rolling clicks and light harmonization.
However, for every track like “Lotus” on ki there are others which simply don’t carry enough movement to sustain the record. It’s not that any of the tracks are weak or even underwritten on their own (the rainy garden connoted by wooden taps and hammered yangqin on “Blowind” would function perfectly as a bridge between or denouement after more dynamic pieces), but that it’s too easy to lose what makes the track enjoyable when it’s placed between tracks of even more subtle construction. ki is perhaps tasteful to a fault – the old joke about “too much minimalism” comes to mind.
ki‘s success or failure with individual listeners will likely hinge upon how far they can be carried by pure atmosphere and sound design. It’s finely crafted, well-considered stuff which might pair well with reading or gaming (or even meditation on the themes and concepts by which it’s been inspired), but perhaps needs to advocate for itself more strongly.