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Pulse Emitter - Swirlings Music Album Reviews

Daryl Groetsch’s style is distinguished by its deeply expressive sensibility. Few ambient composers can fit quite as much feeling into such a small curlicue of tone.

At a recent performance in Portland, Oregon, Pulse Emitter’s Daryl Groetsch sat behind a low table coaxing otherworldly noises out of a handful of devices. A few were pretty humdrum: dented guitar pedals, a Sony Walkman, a Roland Space Echo from the 1970s. Then there was an odd, homemade contraption that looked a little like a cribbage board fitted with phono jacks; stranger still was a wood plank with three long springs screwed to it, the kind you might find affixed to a screen door. While it was hard to figure out exactly how Groetsch was generating such a cosmic swirl with his little boxes, there was no mistaking the sound of those springs: They cut through the mix like the thunder you might hear in a horror film, or a nightmare.


Pulse Emitter’s Swirlings is a more placid affair, and a world away from the steampunk hodgepodge strewn across his gear table. If the murky turbulence of his live set suggested a bumpy ride through an asteroid belt in a battered escape pod, the new album—the latest in a discography more than 80 records deep and his first solo album on Hausu Mountain—evokes more blissful and hi-tech vistas, like gazing through the portholes of a gleaming spacecraft at the sweep of the Milky Way.

It’s easy to fall back on science-fiction metaphors when discussing Pulse Emitter’s music. His rippling arpeggios and buoyant pads are part of a cosmic-music tradition that stretches back through new age and prog to stargazing synthesists like Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, and Vangelis. These aren’t uncommon reference points; they’ve been dominant modes in left-field electronic music since the late ’00s, popularized by artists like Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never. But Pulse Emitter easily holds his own against his better-known peers. Since 2002, he has developed a style that’s distinguished by its deeply expressive sensibility.

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That instinct is at the center of the opening “Electron Central,” in which tumbling arpeggios spin against a beatific backdrop of held tones. There’s not much to the track, just a bright, glassy FM synth lead and those fizzy background pads, but the way Groetsch teases the balance between the two, fading elements in and out, lends an almost narrative shape to its seven-minute run. Throughout the album, the tension between form and formlessness keeps things engaging. In both “Fairy Tree” and “Cloud Refuge,” minimalist pulses and rain-stick gurgle alternate with heartstring-tugging chord changes—a tactic that invites zoning out and then sneakily brings you back to the here and now, like a hypnotist snapping his fingers.

At their best, Pulse Emitter’s tracks trade ambient music’s aimless drift for deep compositional structure. The dark, droning harmonies and flashes of dissonance in “Space Frost” recall the most desolate moments of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II, yet the twisting of his whale-song melody is sketched with a calligrapher’s grace. Few ambient composers can fit quite as much feeling into such a small, off-handed curlicue of tone. “Ripples,” which sets a shape-shifting mallet and harpsichord-like melodies against characteristically bucolic chords, is even more affecting, paced to periodically deliver a tidy dopamine hit every time it lands upon a particularly plangent chord. In moments like these, Pulse Emitter feels less like a noise tinkerer or an ambient musician and more like a bona fide songwriter—just one working with some rather unconventional tools.


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About Udara Madusanka

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