Artist Sevi Iko Dømochevsky visualises the kind of catastrophe that KMRU and Aho Ssan make audible in their Fact Mix, one that is painful to comprehend, yet serves as a prescient diagnosis of our present.
Kenyan sound artist Joseph Kamaru, otherwise known as KMRU, and Aho Ssan, the French producer and composer born Désiré Niamké, are two of of contemporary electronic music’s most fascinating and vital figures. While the former artist’s prolific experiments with field recording have seen him develop an approach to ambient composition that emerges from and through the listener’s relationship with the sounds of their physical environment, the latter artist uses the infamously byzantine programming language Max/MSP to delve deep into the infinite possibilities of synthetic sound. Across his catalogue, on records such as Peel, Jar and Imperceptible Perceptible, KMRU emphasises the importance of listening to what you might usually miss, using patchworks of field recordings, foley and processing to bring small details into sharp focus. In contrast, Aho Ssan operates in more speculative and expressionist space, on the one hand contorting synthesis in unexpected directions while with the other simulating sounds previously unheard. On his 2020 album, Simulacrum, Niamké created Max/MSP patches to simulate The Mensah Imaginary Band, a synthesised ensemble inspired by his grandfather Mensah Anthony, a trumpet player who in the ’50s led a Ghanaian band across the Ivory Coast and acted as a conductor at the country’s famed Abissa Festival. Having never met his grandfather, as well as never having heard any recordings of his music, the artist created The Mensah Imaginary Band as a means of connecting with the music of his heritage, making sounds lost to memory material. Though perhaps counterintuitive, KMRU and Aho Ssan find immense, crackling potential energy in the contrast between their approaches, embracing chaos and cacophony and for their astounding collaborative work, which has seen both artists eschewing the minimalism of previous solo projects in favour of an intoxicating hybrid form of ferocious digital maximalism.
“I never made something so extreme,” Niamké says of his first recording with KMRU, a brooding composition made up of dense swarms of noise, groaning low-end and heart-wrenching synth improvisations, proof incarnate that, in the right hands, ambient, far from floating off in the background, has the all-consuming power to engulf entire rooms, volcanic eruptions of sound channeled into a deeply resonant collaborative expression. Commissioned by Berlin Atonal for their Metabolic Rift event, that first recording would grow and develop to eventually bloom into Limen, the duo’s 2020 album for Subtext. Here, driven by the internal and external pressure of the pandemic, the collaborators explored the dichotomy of their partnership further, taking cyclical processes of destruction and creation as a leaping off point to record an album structured around duality in sound, concept and execution. The result, in the words of Subtext founder James Ginzburg, unfolds as a soundtrack for “deconstructing history as it detonates around us.” It’s amongst the rubble of this detonation that we find ourselves for KMRU and Aho Ssan’s latest project, an audiovisual mix created alongside visual artist Sevi Iko Dømochevsky, who plunges us through the smog of a post-apocalypse, gliding through ruined environments and ecosystems like a reality warping ghost haunting a dead planet. “The approach of the mix was quite seamless,” explains Kamaru. “It’s evident how both of our works juxtapose onto each other and the mix feels like an antiphony between our sonic worlds. I began the mix with subtle tones and tracks currently unreleased and Désiré did the same with a more abrasive ending, an alternating response to the first half of the mix, which imbues an attunement to the reality through stillness, chaos and regeneration in a dialog between both of us.”
“I can’t seem to escape the idea that humans are so blissfully ignorant of the reality of the world,” asserts Dømochevsky, framing KMRU and Aho Ssan’s apocalypse ambient in motion blur and synthetic haze, languidly moving between a haunting sequence of catastrophic scenarios. The bleached ribs of a rotting leviathan protrude from a drained sea bed like spiny columns in a post-apocalyptic cathedral, its gargantuan spinal cord jutting from a carcass slick with sea water. Salt and whale blood swirl together in the discordant drones of unreleased material from KMRU, the sounds of a Berlin train serving as a quiet reminder of a world left to ruin. Space Afrika’s ethereal smudge of The Orielles ‘Beam/s’ strikes an eerie dissonance against a crimson sun setting over a radioactive sea, their haunting refrain, “something true, something real” warped into a chilling portent of what at present feels like our planet’s inevitable climate collapse. Just as KMRU’s soundscapes drift between dissociation and unease, an amorphous smog thick with tension, Dømochevsky’s imagery seems caught between entropy and undulation, streaked with analogue grain, the beautiful accidents of corrupt technology. The frazzled onslaught of Aho Ssan & Josèfa Ntjam ‘Dislocations’ bleeding into an excerpt of ‘Ego Death,’ performed at the 2022 edition of Unsound by Niamké and Resina, signals an explosion into psychedelic glitch. Frames within frames mimic the hyperactive pulse of news cycles in the age of social media, a perpetual deluge within which it is at times impossible to discern the difference between legacy media, OSINT reportage and deepfake spectacle, where natural disasters vie for their place within the attention economy, fighting for position alongside TikTok trends and targeted ads. Dømochevsky visualises the kind of catastrophe KMRU and Aho Ssan have made audible, one that is painful to comprehend, yet serves as a prescient diagnosis of our present.
KMRU – ‘Till Hurricane Bisect’
KMRU – ‘Slowed Cities’
The Orielles – ‘Beam/s (Space Africa Remix)
KMRU – ‘Dissolution Grip’
KMRU – ‘Motley’
Aho Ssan & Josèfa Ntjam – ‘Dislocations’ (Extract, 2022)
Ego Death – ‘Ego Death (Excerpt)’, Live @ Unsound 2022
Watch next: Fact Mix 889 – Tim Reaper & Jack Anderson
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