Aperus: Archaic Signal
by Jennifer Kelly, Dusted
Brian McWilliams, who records as Aperus, filters natural and technological sound through a surf of static, creating large-scale, echoing soundscapes that hear the world as if from a vast distance. The artist, who lives in the desert in New Mexico, has lately been sampling the sounds gathered by a high powered antenna at a university in the Netherlands (the sounds are available via an online interface). Shards of foreign conversation, choral singing and other elements flutter through his ambient atmospheres, not quite heard but evocative. Listening feels like hovering in space, half-tuned to the world s transmissions and aching for life and connection.
"New Antenna", for instance, emits a dopplering electronic hum which seems to move toward us and away in slow pulses. Against this backdrop, distorted voices float in and out of our peripheral hearing. A man with a Russian accent repeatedly declares, "Now I have a new antenna". The cut is full of mysterious, hissing, vibrating tones, which seems to imply large, empty spaces, desolation and the futility of long-distance communication. The title track is lighter, airier and filled with a hovering anticipation; it sounds the inner workings of a submarine, but also like prayer and revelation. Towards the end, something that sounds like a massed choral hymn bobs up out of the stew of sounds then recedes, bracketed by the beep sequence for a non-working phone number.
These two are likely derived from McWilliams' antenna project, but he also mines and distorts and obscures natural sounds from his desert environment for a similar effect. The long "Birdsong as a Mantra" lays an ominous buzz under the sounds of birdcalls. Electronic hums zoom in and out of focus, leaving jet trails of dissonance, as the birds chirp in a repeated loop over and over again. The electronic sounds keep us at a distance from the natural ones, erecting a scrim of temporal or physical remove. We don't so much feel surrounded by nature as exiled from it; there is a sense of longing in the cut.
Later tracks are more luminous and musical, letting pristine electronic tones linger over the hiss and seethe of static. "Silver Birds", "Archeodreaming" and "Afterglow" all approach overt melody, but back away, dissolving big church-organ-ish tones into a vibrating mesh of sensation. These are enveloping, encircling washes of sound, which never cohere into songs per se, but provide engrossing places to stay and absorb sensation for a little while. ~ Jennifer Kelly
By Anthony D'Amico, Brainwashed
Even though I should absolutely know better, I have spent plenty of time and money over the years trying to find new artists that scratch roughly the same itch that several of my favorites did in their prime. In my heart, I know that no one will ever be able to replicate the magic of classic Dead Can Dance or Zoviet France or whoever, but that certainly does not stop me from endlessly disappointing myself with my doomed and stupid quest. Sometimes, however, I am drawn towards an album due to its surface resemblance to something familiar only to discover that the artist shot right past the target nostalgia zone to achieve something that is unique and wonderful in its own right. That is the case with this latest release from Brian McWilliams' long-running Aperus project, which calls to both the "sci-fi tribal" aesthetic of classic Zoviet France/Rapoon and the desert/ethno-ambient side of Projekt's late 90s heyday (Steve Roach, et al.). As far as I am concerned, that is an absolutely wonderful stylistic niche to stake out, but McWilliams' execution is what elevates Archaic Signal into something truly special. Rather than simply recalling the iconic figures who birthed a milieu that I love, this album reveals that those original visions have evolved into a compelling new phase with some visionary architects of its own.
One of my many pet theories is that our immediate surroundings play an enormous role in both how we feel about ourselves and the world as a whole. Consequently, I had a bit of a "eureka!" moment when I listened to an Alan Moore interview in which he observed that if you feel you are living in a rat hole, you start to feel like a rat. Conversely, if you see magic and history all around you, you start to feel like you can do great things yourself. I bring this up because I do not think that this album could exist if Brian McWilliams was not a landscape photographer living in "the high deserts of northern New Mexico," as space, solitude, and a healthy immersion in the non-human natural world are near-essential pre-requisites for escaping the numbing noise of the current age long enough to contemplate more existential and timeless matters.
Based on the conceptual inspirations behind Archaic Signal, it is clear that McWilliams was impressively successful in that escape from noise, as the album took shape around his revelation that bird songs, cosmic noise, radio transmissions, and ancient petroglyphs are all potentially part of the same infinite communication continuum extending throughout all of time and space. Appropriately, each of those threads finds its way into the album somehow, as these nine songs are peppered with bird sounds and an unpredictable array of radio transmissions picked up by a high-powered radio antenna in the Netherlands (numbers stations, space noise, garbled news broadcasts, a distorted call to prayer). The petroglyphs, on the other hand, are included as an accompanying series of postcard-sized art. Given McWilliams pedigree as a photographer, it is not surprising that the images provided with the physical album are an integral part of the whole, but the petroglyphs add an enticing layer of mystery as well. If I were inclined, it would be very easy to tie my mind in knots trying to figure out if any image holds the Rosetta Stone that reveals a shared deeper meaning that unites cave art, happily twittering birds, and the cryptic radio transmissions of distant star systems.
The album opens in admirably strong fashion with the throbbing and gnarled menace of "New Antenna," but it is the following title piece that best illustrates the album's overarching aesthetic. The heart of "Archaic Signal" is a warm haze of intermingled drones that slowly curls like smoke. At the same time, a swelling undercurrent transforms into a lazily heaving pulse that feels like a series of vast cosmic exhalations while a surreal host of phantasmal sounds in the periphery billow and smear, emerging from the drones like organically growing tendrils. Gradually, the original theme evolves into an unexpectedly heavenly coda of choral voices floating through a hissing sea of static and chatter. It all amounts to absolutely gorgeous piece for a number of reasons, but the primarily one is that McWilliams creates a compelling and dynamically rich central theme that propels the piece forward, then enhances it with a series of subtle psychedelic flourishes that feel like a fraying of reality's edges that hints at greater depths yet to be revealed. Needless to say, doing that and making it seem organic and effortless is a neat trick and McWilliams repeats it again and again in varying form as the album unfolds.
Each of Archaic Signal's nine songs is strong in its own way, but my favorite stretch is a three-song streak near the middle of the album that begins with the seething, undulating, and immersive swirl of "Newspaper Rock." It never quite evolves into anything more, but it does not need to, as it feels like a warm and beautiful dream state that lazily swells and recedes like the rhythm of the tides. The epic "Canopy of Stars," on the other hand, is the album's deepest foray into the "sci-fi tribal" aesthetic, as massive drones heave over a stomping and clicking percussion motif en route to a wonderfully churning and blackened finale. The following "Birdsong as Mantra" almost feels like a supernatural deepening of the scene painted by its predecessor, evoking the disorienting sense that time is bending and stretching as I sink further into another layer of reality. In more plain terms, it is an enveloping feast of deep, heavy oscillations and cheerily burbling bird songs that smear and linger in pleasingly hallucinatory ways.
The usual peril with deep drone music in this vein is that so many artists lack the harmonic sensibility and lightness of touch necessary to pull it off, resulting in a mountain of forgettable and interchangeable releases celebrating monochromatic bass thrum, seismic rumble, and echoing cracks. Admittedly, such fare can still be impressive if an artist's sound design talents are exceptional, but McWilliams takes a much more nuanced, complexly evocative, and personal path. Rather than attempting to replicate the sheer power and scale of massive geological or cosmological events, McWilliams has instead managed to evoke the sense of wonder that they inspire on a human scale. The difference is significant, as it is extremely satisfying to feel like I am lying on my back beneath a vast, twinkling panorama of stars, drinking in all the rich sensory details of my surroundings. It is dramatically less satisfying to merely think "I guess this captures the cold infinity of space pretty well." The former is truly rare achievement and McWilliams has managed to do it as well as just about anyone with Archaic Signal. Needless to say, I will soon be digging further into McWilliams' discography to see what other exquisite pleasures I may have slept on, but is hard to imagine any way that he could improve upon this particulate release. With the arguable exception of the dub-techno elements in "Archaeodreaming," Archaic Signal is an unwaveringly sustained and absorbing spell that successfully untethered me from the present reality and dropped me into a vividly realized alternate world of beauty and mystery. While I suppose only time will tell if this album is destined to become a classic of the genre, it definitely feels like one to me right now. True objectivity about art is basically impossible, obviously, but if I try to disregard the romance of nostalgia, I am hard-pressed to think of many canonical albums in this vein that are as thoughtfully constructed and immersive as this one.
by Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly
The name Aperus wasn't new to me, but much to my surprise I see that the first review is already in Vital Weekly 397, which is quite some ago. Over the years I reviewed two more and apart from 'Hinterland', I think I pretty much reviewed all of his work. McWilliams is also a member of Remanence, who also don't release much, but he's dividing his time well. The new one has nine pieces and is over an hour long. Behind Aperus we find Brian McWilliams, and he lists as instruments "shortwave radio, software sampler, OB6, Wavestation, Juno 106, Un-O-LX, Prophet 5/VS, Droneo, Synplant, Sunrizer, processed guitar, rattles, field recordings and tape manipulation". He lives in New Mexico and the La Cienaguilla Petroglyphs was the source for the title... Sources as short wave radio give the album a rather nice edge (not an actual shortwave radio but the one that is feeding on a website from the University of Enschede, so if you need a sound source tune in on that). Aperus takes some time to unfold his musical pieces but all but one is never outstaying it's welcome. 'Birdsong As Mantra' is at close to seventeen minutes a bit too long with a rather normal bird song on a loop to hold my interest, but in the other eight pieces, Aperus succeed pretty well in cooking up some highly atmospheric tunes. From what turns out to be the noisiest piece on the release, the opening 'New Antenna' to the softest at the end, 'Afterglow', this release is quite a trip. Reverb is used quite a bit to suggest that atmosphere, but it used economically. Just enough and never in the way of the piece. Sometimes the synthesizer drifts in a cosmic fashion (sans the arpeggios), such as 'Phase Shift' and sometimes field recordings prevail (in 'Newspaper Rock'). Two pieces are granted a bit of rhythm, which works well in this sparse setting, placing different aspects to a song. Both music and visual approach reminded me of zoviet*france and that is a good thing. Comes with a fine set of additional cards with images and paintings and that tops off a fine product. (FdW)
By Richard Allen, A Closer Listen
We're always appreciative when artists go the extra mile, and Brian McWilliams (Aperus) has done so literally and figuratively. The artist has translated visits to New Mexico s La Cienaguilla Petroglyph site into music, photography and art, and Archaic Signal is a thoughtful physical edition of his multi-media work. The combination of petroglyphs, art cards and dark ambience forms a tactile impression of the ancient and mysterious region.
The title refers to the cultural age of the petroglyphs and to the shortwave radio snippets included in the mix. These add a sense of an attempted, yet abraded communication. Some of these voices are distorted, whether spoken or sung; many scatter languages like Babel. Are the signals getting through? The modern shortwave transmissions have the same effect as old tape loops: both come across as ghosts. In the title track, choirs occupy the same space as dial-up beeps: two types of messages trying to break through, one spiritual and one technological. After this, the all-too-brief "Phase Shift" seems mournful, a reflection of messages ignored, unreceived or misunderstood.
In the back half of the album McWilliams delves even deeper into the signal world, leaving the human realm to meditate on the avian. The 17-minute "Birdsong as Mantra" cedes space to the winged residents of New Mexico, who have been passing their signals down the line, generation after generation, adapting to changing sonic environments by incorporating new signals of their own. To a bird, a petroglyph may mean nothing, but an ingrained migratory map may be the key to winter survival. These thoughts hold power: the transmission of information not only within, but across time. We can only be the sum total of accumulated wisdom if we choose to honor the teachings of our ancestors: to consider them relevant rather than archaic. McWilliams' practice of listening to every possible voice ~ rock, bird, radio ~ makes him a vessel for the knowledge of the world. (Richard Allen)
By Felix V. Diaz, Lux Atenea
The immersion and search for the connection with the archaic past together and with the vast universal immensity, have been the existential and creative leitmotif of the talented American artist Brian McWilliams when giving meaning and conceptual depth to each of his musical works signed as Aperus. At the bottom, it is a search for the meaning of the human in relation to the world, with its archaic roots, with that spark of rationality that was born one day in his mind to radically change the destiny of his species. In this new album entitled Archaic Signal , fifth in his musical career as Aperus, the conceptual axis around which each of the nine themes that make up this magnificent work revolve are the petroglyphs existing in Santa Fe (New Mexico, United States of America ) in a place called La Cieneguilla. If Lux Atenea cultured readers do a search on Google, the images they will observe will impress them, and they will understand why the ambient style with experimental sonic brushstrokes is perfect and conceptually ideal for the creative avant-garde perspective that Brian McWilliams offers us in this great album. In addition, in the sound profiling of this album he has been able to count on the professional collaboration of artists such as Ivan Block (guitar on the theme "Archaic Signal" and "Afterglow") and Karla K McWilliams (drum loop and samples on "Canopy of Stars").Released last October through its own record label GEOPHONIC RECORDS in digital format, and in a beautiful ecopak CD edition that includes five cards with double-sided images, it is now available both on the record label's website and on the official Aperus page on Bandcamp. Decked out with a spectacular design with photographs taken by the artist Brian McWilliams himself, here we are not talking about abstract art but about representations reminiscent of primitive art, transmitting that symbolism and that balance in the image that even today many of them still retain their enigmatic message. But an enigma surrounded by a mystery that mentally traps those who observe it, and with the same psychological intensity of the dark abyss.Not only the front and back covers are wrapped in the beautiful, in the arcane, but also each of the ten images included in the cards included in the physical edition on ecopak CD, elegantly held by a gray band. Without a doubt, this edition of the album "Archaic Signal" is visually elegant, and with that hedonistic aura that so attracts non-mainstream music lovers who treasure in their private collections the most beautiful and select editions that have been published. My recommendation of this physical edition to the cult readers of Lux Athena is absolute. All they have to do is go to the official Aperus website on Bandcamp to check it out.
On a technical level, the recording and mixing of each of these songs has been carried out by the artist himself in his Sound Observatory studio, in addition to mastering the themes New Antenna and Afterglow , leaving the mastering process for the rest of the compositions in the expert hands of Jason Goodyear (Ice Cream Truck Studio, tracks Archaic Signal and Canopy of Stars ) and Robert Rich (Soundscape, Mountain View, the other tracks on the album). And the sound quality that the album Archaic Signal presents during its audition is spectacular.You can see the meticulousness and balance in the sound register that has been given to each of these compositions because the music of Aperus envelops you, possesses you, and takes you mentally to another dimension where we lose the notion of the real time in which we live our daily lives. Hearing the album Archaic Signal is like a disconnection, like an entrance to a vortex that will take us to the past, to that primitive past, and, in turn, expands the mind in our universe breaking the psychological limitations, elevating our sensitivity and our existential plane. The album Archaic Signal musically has a soul, and although it has avant-garde artistic qualities where experimental sound innovation is always present, each song projects a very special sound halo. The artist Brian McWilliams is passionate about analog electronics, field recordings, the use of software sampler, even the use of the most diverse electronic devices to create textures, sound chromaticisms, and musical brushstrokes that combined in an avant-garde structure, have been giving personality to his style of musical composition. Without a doubt, the ambient style of Aperus will enchant music lovers related to this scene.
We begin the audition of this admirable musical work entering into the oscillating theme New Antenna , presenting a Sci-fi ambient style that causes us restlessness and tension as we are situated in the middle of this sound whirlwind. When calm arrives, the break with reality will have occurred, leaving a minimalist sound stage with a watery texture where the echoes give dimension to this new space conceptually marked by experimental electronics. Next, in the theme Archaic Signal an ambient style will appear located close to its conceptual limits with dark-ambient and with the drone, evolving towards an increasingly dense and complex electronic structure, then dissipating into the luminosity of a style almost sacred ambient . Archaic Signal is a magnificent composition where its musical nuances invite you to several re-auditions before diving into the theme Phase Shift . Here, the sound beauty of Aperus' ambient style is apotheosis, apollonian in the magnificence projected by its light-filled sound chromaticisms, configuring a sensory spleen completely removed from religious spirituality and intimately related to the authentic human essence. "Phase Shift", spectacular !!! Then, the theme Newspaper Rock will put our feet on the ground to fascinate us with the contemplation of the magical, the symbolic, that message far removed from words and language, but which is understandable by human intuition. "Newspaper Rock" becomes a connection with the collective unconscious.
More vibrant and intense will appear the theme "Canopy of Stars", opening the sky so that the firmament enters our mind and seduces it through the contemplation of the immeasurable, the colossal in permanent activity, and the vision of constant change in everything that surrounds him because nothing remains static and immobile in the universe. The dance of Creation does not stop being represented before our eyes when we observe space, because matter and life are changes, changes and more changes. Immersed in this dynamic, we will delve into the mystical with the theme "Birdsong as Mantra", synthesizing the harmony in the languor of this sound cycle decorated with the beauty of the bird's song. "Birdsong as Mantra" is the most experimental and innovative theme on this album, incorporating multiple sound plans where the musical vividness is extraordinary as everything transforms, evolves, and harmonizes within a mentally very magnetic and sensorially possessive experimental electronics. Almost seventeen minutes in length that can seem like only four or five. Giving continuity to the spiritual, the theme "Silver Birds" is resplendent through a spectral dynamism that brings it very close to dark-ambient. Even as a drone you feel its sublime beauty during its audition, and these sensations incite you to new re-auditions for the mere pleasure of repeating such exalted musical hedonism. "Silver Birds", Aperus in its purest form !!!But, later, in "Archeodreaming", this fascination is reborn with another musical structure and another sound vitality, increasing the projected energy but within a spiritual axis where the music lover remains static, only as a contemplative being, hieratic in his paralysis, and emotionally active in his perception of the dreamlike. "Archaeodreaming" is a clever amalgamation of ambient and experimental electronics that will delight music-loving readers of Lux Athena. Closing this captivating album, the theme "Afterglow" will emerge as a vital crescendo, as an invigoration of the environment, and as a resurgence of that cycle where the human is part and not the axis. Where he is a participant, but not the main protagonist in the universe."Archaic Signal", primitive symbolic essence, universal consciousness, and avant-garde ambient musical background treasured in this precious ecopak CD edition. Enjoy !!!
Felix V. Diaz
Cultural Review #887 // Musical Review #793
by Steve Mecca, Chain D.L.K.
Brian McWilliams is back again with another Aperus release, 'Archaic Signal,' his fifth album with this project following 'Lie Symmetry' which I reviewed back in 2018. Revisiting the review and the album (listening), I realize that it was even better than I thought it was at the time, so I urge you to get it. As for the album at hand, let's see what we're in for. McWilliams claims the title ('Archaic Signal') came to him while visiting a petroglyph site near his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. "It appeared as a mirage....the images felt like viable signals still holding a charge." The resonating signal also occurred again while listening to a birdsong outside his studio, so he recorded it to a handful of cassettes and experimented with compromising the tape by scraping, crumpling, pulling it apart, reassembling it and applying magnets to it. That certainly added a lot of grit, noise and analog color. McWilliams' use of shortwave radio on this album is another key factor (and one used by Aperus often in the past) and that comes up right away in the music.
"New Antenna" features twisty drones interspersed with the aforementioned shortwave samples (foreign voices, possibly Russian) and then some other odd sounds toward the end. For the casual listener, this kind of experimentalism may be off-putting, but give it a chance. The title track perks up one's ears with a whistling quality, beginning as small signals in space to gradually become huge as the noise subtly sweeps in, a spacious environment is formed. At its apex it is nearly overwhelming, but then something happens and it morphs into something...otherworldly. Voices from the past rise and fall, as well as other incidents you're barely aware of. The melodic melancholy of "Phase Shift" is a little reminiscent of some of 'Lie Symmetry,' and although brief at 2:33, it is still poignant. The oddly titled "Newspaper Rock" blends complex ambient drone with various discreet spoken word (possibly radio or shortwave radio) samples, and other electronic zips, zizzes, and miscellaneous sonic artifacts. The broken melody loop that heralds "Canopy of Stars" seems to fade and disappear but actually changes into something more formidable while an at first minimal tapping advances into a bold rhythm, then dissipates. Just when you thought it was all going away, it gradually comes back again, stronger than ever this time. Towards the end it resolves into only two chord changes, but then changes a bit again with subtle supplementary string-like pads. It seems obvious to me that a lot of work went into this piece. You may have been wording what happened to those abused and deconstructed birdsong tapes, so "Birdsong As Mantra" should give you a good idea. It's birdie-chirp with drones and this is the longest track on the album at nearly 17 minutes. Various subtle events come into play at various points in this lengthy piece, but the drones and birdsong are its constant. At the end the soft noise sounds like a vinyl record repeating the last groove in the runout.
I knew sooner or later Brian would bring in some bellish tones (there are lots of them on 'Lie Symmetry') and here they are on "Silver Birds." This may be one of the best bell-drone pieces in recent memory. "Archaeodreaming" has an awful lot going for it - mysterious echoing drone, strange little minimal rhythm, and other nuances. It could have gone on much longer than the nearly five minutes it was. "Afterglow" offers big, rich, complex chordal drone, and a little bird chirping returns as well. The piece ends on a very long fade.
...What puts this into the must buy category is the CD packaging. McWilliams is also a photographer, and for the album artwork he used the camera as a sampler and incorporated basic components from his petroglyph photos with visual abstractions (such as the birdsong displayed on the front cover) layered over other photos of weathered metal, tables, rocks, etc. to create a unique composite image. The CD packaging features a 5 x 7 cello sleeve with a striking double sided gatefold cover and five double sided photo cards (10 images) created from weathered surfaces, pictographs and found objects. I have to say it looks pretty cool and makes this a worthy collectible as well.
by Peter Thelen, Expose
Brian McWilliams is a sound sculptor and photographer based in the high desert of northern New Mexico who releases his material under the moniker Aperus. A couple years ago we reviewed the previous Aperus release Lie Symmetry, an explorative album of ambient textural creations, part organic, part industrial, all created from numerous sources including synths, loops, samples, and more. With his latest, Archaic Signal, he takes his vision a couple steps further into the mysterious worlds of light and shadow, dark dreamy textures and sonic erosion, a space where sound serves its own ends, seeking neither melody or rhythm, where dark ambient structures move slowly, inching their way through the gray fog of disorientation and natural chaos. The album contains nine tracks totaling a few minutes over one hour; the earlier cuts feature samples of a short-wave radio as part of the source material, the latter tracks feature loops of birds communicating, all of which are compelling sources when mixed with the industrial grade groaning textural sounds from an array of synthesizers, samplers, loops, processed guitars, and other sound sources. Being that McWillams is also an artist who uses the medium of photography, be they varied landscapes or minimalist microcosms, the individual tracks go far to pair that imagery with a world of sound that matches the overall mood. The opening salvo, "New Antenna," wastes no time introducing samples of shortwave radio, bursts of sound in a variety of languages from all over the world, mixed seamlessly within a whirring droning background that eventually gives way to mysterious random percussive sounds that slowly fade into a distant echo. The title track offers a dense textural soundworld that combines imagination and mystery, eventually integrating sampled sounds of radio static as the piece proceeds along its path forward. "Phase Shift" is a dense chordal loop that repeats for a little over two minutes, giving way to "Newspaper Rock" that slowly reintroduces more shortwave radio fragments amid a swirling bed of dark, almost sinister textures. A looped rhythmic element is introduced on "Canopy of Stars," fading in and out several times over the piece's duration, while the gravelly gray textures underlie mutes swashes of tonal color. Bird sounds are first introduced at the beginning of the 17-minute "Birdsong as Mantra," eventually joined by cyclical synth sounds and dark brooding textures, probably the most interesting piece on the album, the sound of the birds slowly evolving as elements are disassembled, effects are applied, and reassembled more or less randomly. A dreamy transience continues through the brief "Silver Birds," "Archaeodreaming," and the closer "Afterglow", also using bird sources but in some cases processed well beyond recognition. Archaic Signal is a compelling release, beginning to end, the CD edition housed in a beautiful 5x7 shaped card package with many extras inside.