Reviews: PALACE of MIND

PALACE of MIND is a collaborative effort between Duncan and Italian mathematician Giuliana Stefani. In this work, he returns to the architectural metaphors, which he previously explored on 1996’s THE CRACKLING, a documentation of the aural properties found within SLAC, Stanford University’s titanic particle linear accelerator. PALACE of MIND follows a labyrinthine architectural schematic which parallels not only the minute circuitry of the computer but also the rhizomatic synaptic connections of the brain. With the movement from an irritable data-stream purity to the gossamer haze of shortwave distortion to gaping drones of treated vocal vibrato, Duncan and Stefani have set a trajectory deep into the heart of their sonic architecture. Each room is saturated with an anxiousness for what may be on the other side of the door. It is not Duncan firing a gun at your head, but an interlocking network of chambers that resonate and breathe with a profound beauty. Dare it be said that John Duncan has created something holy? — Jim Haynes, The Wire

An extreme synthesis: three sources – data files, shortwave, vocal forms – for sounds that gradually spiral upward, constantly attracting attention even at nearly inaudible levels, demanding to be heard in a completely silent room. PALACE of MIND is the welcome Duncan/Stefani trademark – indefinable, the type of record that nails you mercilessly to your seat, because you want to catch all the essential elements, to penetrate it fully. I couldn’t even get up to close a door or turn on a lamp; I HAD to see where the wave would take me, I HAD to discover what the next phase of John’s research would be. Again I’m surprised: the sudden bursts and unexpected changes are all left out for a single, continuous vibration that mutates incessantly as time passes. Logic and emotion, waiting and watching from a distance. Sense of completeness. At the end I feel unified with an invisible link and… incredibly fine. — Massimo Ricci

John Duncan is still one of the more interesting pioniers of electronic music. He delivers every year a CD or so, and you can catch him playing stuff live. Recentely he started his own label, Allquestions, and this is his first release, a 50 minute opus, recorded with his partner in life, Giuliana Stefani. The title refers to a house, a house with various rooms. Rooms you can enter, but which are not always easy to find. The brain is a house, filled with rooms like that. A labyrinth. The duo uses data files, shortwave (a trademark of Duncan since many years) and voice. The latter can not be heard as such, due to the extensive processing of the sound, mainly because Duncan and Stefani stretch out the sound and thus play a game with the listeners perception of time (and space of course). Overall the music has a droning characteristic, slowly building blocks of sound over each other until they form a massive, thick wall. That’s the end of the room. Other rooms are open, with a far sound that is waving, like an open window. PALACE of MIND is a narrative piece that should be heard without interruption. Only then it will reveal it’s beauty. — Frans de Waard, Vital

Rarely has an album title been so evocative of the music it contains, especially in experimental music. A palace conjures up the image of a huge construction with many rooms of wide proportions, high ceilings, echoing halls, and maybe even cavernous undergrounds. Now make it a metaphor of the human mind and you will have an idea of what this CD by John Duncan and Giuliana Stefani can feel like. PALACE of MIND is a continuous 50 minute piece of electronic tones, ethereal drones (wind? voice?), and treated shortwaves. It is structured in a succession of interconnected movements, or chambers. Each room holds its particularities in terms of proportions, resonance, timbre, but one clearly senses they all belong to the same structure. The atmosphere gradually changes as one leaves a room to enter the next, keeping the sound level relatively constant (except for the beginning and end of the piece). The shortwaves and some controlled feedback contradict the feeling of acoustic space, introducing instead the idea of electronic (or neuronic, if we follow the “mind” metaphor) space. The duration of the piece is not excessive, dynamics and new textures abound even though it all remain rather soft-spoken. In short, it makes a great inner journey and deserves the listener’s undivided attention. Strongly recommended. PALACE of MIND was released in an edition of 1000 in sober but beautiful embossed paper packaging. — François Couture , All Music Guide

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