Esse Ran - Derelict Memories
Album Review

Published: August 4th 2022

Artwork: Cléo Sjölander, Anna Arrobas, and Jesse Osborne-Lanthier.

Humidex Records

Derelict Memories, the latest release from Montreal’s Humidex Label, is an album from a post-human earth.

It comes with lore: The future hosts a “deforested, excavated, and drilled out planet covered with concrete infrastructures, plastic islands and enormous data centers containing all the bits of its very own exploitation. …It was all documented. Written on precious minerals, encrypted and yet intangible. Therefore, all this data is sitting still without an ear to hear nor an eye to see; encoded, dead cold. The Derelict Memories of a bygone humanity[1].

This gunmetal foretaste of Earth as an azoic clump, jutting with collapsed Brutalist architecture, comes courtesy of Montréal-based multidisciplinary artist Esse Ran (real name Félix Gourd—who has previously performed as DJ Absurde before a symbolic name-change to “dig deeper into electronic exploration towards a more experimental and yet dance-oriented spectrum”[2], as he mourned over some 140 destroyed copies of his first EP, ‘Folding the Dishe). Heavily influenced by the electroacoustic works of Bernard Parmegiani and the musique concrèteof Pierre Schaeffer, Ran composes percussive, textural rhythms that range from brutal to the hypnotic.

He's also something of a jack-of-all-trades: sculpture, video-scenography, sound installation—and, as an A/V artist, through his experimental 3D animation project FÉLIX FÉLIX GOURD GOURD, has rendered such aptly-titled elemental dreamscapes and thoroughly-realized shitposts like ‘Abstract Porn[3],’ ‘«He's wounded fuck»[4],’ and the ‘YOUTUBE POOP TRILOGY[5],’ to name a few. Under his curation, striking visual direction is to be expected, and this LP is perfectly complimented by Cléo Sjölander and Anna Arrobas’ cover art of (what appears to be) a natant arachnoid sunflower with a pit full of hard roe.

As an extension of the post-human concept, Ran collaborated with Sjölander and Los Angeles-based 3D artist Spencer Sterling to create an accompanying AI program[6]. The Derelict Memories is a ‘plastic fabricator’ that produces and posts molten GANs “every 2 hours with a short description of what it think[s] they are[7].” It rationalizes its output as, say, a satellite image of a river[8], a person’s leg with a tattoo on it[9], a snake with a person’s hands[10], etc. (Other personal favorites: a person standing on a snowy hill[11], a black car with a person’s hand on its head[12], a close-up of a white shoe[13].) Strangely enough, black flower on a white surface[14], despite being generated later, looks like an AI-dreamed maquette of the final cover[15].

On the opening track of the album, ‘What Once Was,’ after a foreboding few bars, a surging beat crashes through, punctuated by pitchshifted risers, like zipping and unzipping a quack. By the end, the listener has entered proper Ran’s leftfield post-post-apocalypse. On the following track, ‘Dripping Lights,’ cybernetic tintinnabulations beep atop a whirlpooling pattern, and sounds of droplets double as a lulled snare. Following a brief interlude, ‘Insect Behavior’ adopts a harsher, though somewhat subdued tone. It’s a serrated build; the clatter of bug fauna layer the track: landing clecks of grasshoppers, antennal grooming, the chirp of musical infestants fill out the room. After the unsettling ‘Reve étrange’, an interlude that closes with a crumpled ball of noise, we’re led to ‘Wind Whirl,’ the album’s pulsating bookend—a piece that, while enjoyable, is surplus, a little too long, invariant, though doesn’t detract much from the overall experience of the work.

Esse Ran has created end-time denouement music: fungal takeover and malarial ponds and dust—but for now Derelict Memories is incidental scoring, audio-apocalypticana, to loop during our crawl towards the planetary uninhabitability it has foreseen.

Side note: To get an even more experimental side of Esse Ran, I highly recommend listening to a track like ‘20200812-1’ by Musique Nouvelle[16]—an Avant-techno duo with fellow musician and CMQM percussion ensemble-buddy Simon Chioini when Ran went under DJ Absurde[17]. Included here is a picture of him holding a ludicrously oversized pizza[18].