Hurtleturtled Out of Heaven is the latest release by West Coast multi-disciplinary musician Michael P. Dawson. This is a Moog album, and ONLY a Moog album and he definitely wants us to know that based on the Bandcamp page. Before I even heard a note, I learned that this album is dedicated to Pauline Oliveros (who he studied under) which, of course served to elevate my interest level. Additionally, from his hype sheet:
Hurtleturtled draws inspiration from the works of Morton Subotnick and the composers of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, as well as the more populist work of Wendy Carlos and Isao Tomita, the sequencer-driven space music of the Berlin school, and the innumerable Moogsploitation albums of varying degrees of silliness that followed in the wake of Switched-On Bach’s success.
That’s quite a list of inspirations and the concept alone really appealed to me. The World Turtle pops up in the mythology of several cultures and is also used as a springboard for some Philosophical and Religious thought exercises. Briefly, it posits that the world we live on is supported in the firmament on the back of a…turtle. This turtle (of course) is supported by the back of…why, another turtle silly!
…and another, and another and…damn…it must be turtles all the way down then, right? I’ll stop short of delving into the philosophical ramifications all this elicits (I’m just a Pleb you know) and get to the album. It’s split up into three sections. “Region One” (which looks towards the Cosmos), “Interlude” (a series of catastrophes that move in and out of phase), and “Region Two” (“which looks towards the Earth).
I usually don’t allow myself to be influenced by album or song titles, I, (meaning my brain) would much prefer to spin my own tales as I listen to music. On Hurtleturtled Out of Heaven though, I made an exception, especially after reading up a little on the mythology. What would happen if one of these infinite turtles that “go all the way down” decided (if it even had the free will) to go rogue? That sounds like it would really shake things up in the order of the universe, right? I mean, the whole Tortoise stack would be compromised and become unstable, RIGHT???
Hurtleturtled Out of Heaven borrows its title from James Joyce, and envisions the turtle spirit as a cosmic Finnegan, whose fall is a journey from interstellar space to the seas, swamps, and woodlands of earth.
This thought provided the perfect base for late night story time as I was comfortably ensconced in my headphones. On “Region One”, pretty much out of the gate I had a “whoa, unique sounds alert” moment. Breathy, squelchy and human extended vocalese sounding Moog swoops (Think Jaap Blonk) begin to layer over one another. This gives way to some Berlin style sequencing with splatters of slapstick sounding melodies popping in and out. It’s all very crazy and demented and would make a perfect soundtrack to some sort of Rube Goldberg contraption manifested in an early 20th Century cartoon. So, in this first part we have our intrepid rogue Turtle, (can we call him Toots) forcibly detaching himself from the stack (which creates all kinds of perils) and launching himself through the void, hurtling towards the now very unstable Earth. Check out the album cover, is that NOT a look of steadfast determination as it navigates (using its crack Turtle senses) its way through the cosmic debris towards Terra Firma?
Well, as you may have expected…this action has caused mass chaos and confusion up and down the stack which, in turn brings the Earth to the brink of a planetary extinction event. The short, 90-second “Interlude” piece depicts this. Speeded up, high pitched sequenced harshness that eventually reaches a crescendo and ends with a “POOF” followed by the slapstick one bar melody signals Toot’s (crash) landing on our great blue globe. “Region Two” begins the reconstruction process. This piece starts off with a Nancarrow vibe and again, the Moog sounds are quite unusual, not to mention the quirky avant-prog melodies. As the piece continues, the density gets thicker and more intense culminating in a drone-like structure which could ONLY BE Toots interfacing with the planet to repair the damage he/she/it has wrought. The drone becomes more detailed, more layered, and more intense…after all, there is a lot of work to be done here. It finally begins to wind down (from exhaustion), losing detail and volume till a simple monotone is heard. Does this mean success? Well, we’re still here, aren’t we?
Thus ends my cinéma pour l’oreille of Hurtleturtled Out of Heaven. For hardcore Moog aficionados and fans of unusual and very compelling electronic sounds, textures, and sonic spaces, and EM in general, this is an easy recommendation. Whether this was Dawson’s intent or not, mythologies…the stories we tell ourselves and others and the worlds they can create are legion, this release acts as a wonderful guide for one of them. Give it a listen, build your own myth.