Okot p’Bitek may be less concerned with pronounceability than he is with creating an air of mystique. It is the pseudonym of Naas man Daniel Curran, named for the Ugandan poet and author. He’s had a busy few months it would seem, releasing four of his projects in June of this year, with this EP following in July. His work lies in the realm of the instrumental; ambient experimental drone pieces that stretch out, sometimes over the entire length of one release.
What piques our interest is that these soundscapes are recorded live, on four-track and with guitar, and with as little post-production overdubs as possible. Intro begins with atmospheric drones, instantly redolent of a soundtrack, before Ovular I comes in. Airy chimed guitar notes gradually start to collide with one another, eventually creating a ringing bell. More spatial chords drop onto this, reverbed and glacial, both in the feeling of distance and isolation they evoke and the speed at which they descend.
A structure is revealed only gradually, so slowly do the pieces fall together. A new melody swells to take precedence; a string and organ effect, if a comparison is to be drawn with an organic instrument. This effect then falls, rises, and falls again, lingering on each plateau briefly before running directly into Ovular II. This takes a darker downturn, with just enough of an off-kilter wavering effect to instil a sense of unease. It becomes an opaque symphony, of sorts, that rises to majestic peaks at certain passes. A disembodied female voice speaks, grounding it in reality as opposed to the Lovecraftian dreamscape it evokes. Her words are the stuff of a different nightmare, though, revealing themselves to be the weighty parable ‘Before The Law’ from Franz Kafka’s novel ‘The Trial’.
Literature, music and cinema collide then on Kafka, with its static undertow and deep organ-like swells that gently recede. It is male voices we hear this time – a conversation sample from the opening, disorienting arrest scene of Orson Welles’ adaptation of ‘The Trial’. The music recedes briefly and lets the dialogue become audible, an arbitrary sonic addition when plucked from the context of the film. The post rock guitar is most overt here, marking it apart from the rest of the album, yet the song also gives it a sense of symmetry. ‘Ovular’s sonic palette expands in its mid-section then almost imperceptibly recoils, bookended by the brief ambient organ drone of Outro.
‘Ovular’ is not something to just dip in and out of, nor is it a casual listening experience. Curran’s apparent rendering of a soundtrack to Kafka’s narrative, and by extension, Welles’ film, demands an investment of time as its themes unfold at a measured pace. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly one of the more interesting releases to have crossed our path in recent times.