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Niko Tzoukmanis ‎– Hope Is The Sister Of Despair (Libreville Records, 2021)



Tzoukmanis' 2013 album under the Microphase name gets a richly deserved reissue on the ever impressive Libreville imprint, with the music found within truly extraordinary in every shape of the word.


Synths are pretty remarkable pieces of equipment, with their inner workings presenting to us a never ending array of sounds, manipulations and tones, a machine that reflects emotion, feel and character to the 8th degree. Ever since synths started to really grip the imaginations of musicians during the 60s and 70s, their presence within tracks moved from background spatial features to leading the line to becoming the centre point of records, sounds, movements, clubs, and the like. Particularly during the transitions between the 70s and into the 80s, synths and electronic programming in general became the main drivers of pretty much all music, as producers looked to capitalise on new technologies as a means to channel their creative wills and feelings into the music. Many incredible genres were born into the world via the explorations that were afforded to all who owned synths or drum machines, but the narrative only became carved out as certain individuals paired context with mood, and thus genres like House and Techno came into being. Electronic music in general at this time would explode in relation to music creation, and the umbrella term oversaw so much forward thinkingness and innovation start to take root, with incredible developments shining through across the globe in regards to the way in which keys spread themselves out across the spectrum, and how from a tonal perspective they were able to shift mountains and carve out streams within our minds. Throughout all of these amazing steps forward, we not only saw music being crafted within numerous wavelengths, but also we started to see the emerging relationships between producers and their hardware, and how interconnected they felt as a result with the music being outlined to us. Its a kind of initially surface level but then deeply intrinsic bond that revolves around the core themes of certain records and sounds, one that feels as if the producer behind it all is leaving a piece of themselves very much within the unravelling flows, as emotion and feel become very much a singular thread which work on numerous levels to speak to us across the plains. The music feels like a language, the synths working to portray a scene or an emotion to us that makes us close our eyes and search within for some kind of meaning, and that meaning usually always comes to the surface via the relationships between the finger tips and the keys. We feel involved from the off in these kinds of compositions, one where organic notions rise right to the top as a reflection of the producer's relationship with their hardware, music that feels alive and vibrant with just the right amount of individualised flavour thrown in for good measure. This relationship has cropped up within so many genres, and its always a wonderful thing to delve within from an emotional and dancey perspective, with our hearts and minds very much invited along for the ride into a space where keys outline a very special feeling indeed. You take notice of the little details, the care and passion oozing from every facet of the compositions, with little spaces persisting from deep within that contain all the wonderment you could ever wish for, as blends and tones keep piling on the feels each and every time. There's always plenty to go around, and in a musical world shaped by imagination and the hardware you have available to you, there simply is no end to the scope of certain records, and that scope defines itself only by the ways in which the person behind it all looks to do so. And that, at the end of the day, is something we can all get behind.


In relation to the exploration of the utmost depths of possibility with the synthesiser, it's hard to look beyond producer Niko Tzoukmanis' incredible contributions to contemporary electronic music. Tzoukmanis has had a pretty interesting career, which begun in the early 00s where he began crafting minimal tech house, before moving into other realms like IDM and Dub Techno, before settling into the world of ambient techno, with each progression in his discography feeling incredibly natural and organic. His music always feels very thoughtful and well executed, with an emphasis on harnessing some form of inner power as to project a little bit of himself into every cut, with this coming across as a vibrant sense of character that makes you feel very embraced when listening to his records. Whilst his more minimal work perhaps didn't show us the fullest extent of his relationship with keys, we got a greater understanding of this symbiosis when Tzoukmanis announced the Flambient imprint, which was introduced to the world as a vehicle for his more unravelling ambient pieces that are inspired greatly by Detroit Techno and the various strains of the UK electronic music scene from the 90s, with the music being released under the Microphase alias. As discussed in the opening paragraph, it's always a blessing to see a producer at one with their hardware and their vision, with the three ingredients coming together to help craft a audial identity that is incredibly enriching to the ears and warm to the touch, a blend that only grows with time as we become ensnared in the beauty of it all. The music found on the label has only grow in time to become perhaps Tzoukmanis' most significant and impactful contribution to the contemporary scene, with the emphasis placed on the keys and little to no drumming patterns being introduced meaning that we are feed a constant stream of glorious blissed out key lines and sequences, all of which point to the groundbreaking contributions of the early 90s Detroit Sound and the inventive progressiveness of the UK during the same period. You feel very much involved in the ensembles as they pass by, a daring and adventurous series of compositions that bring the listener deep into the rhythmic chordal outlines and boisterous key sequences that provide us with a very serene inner feeling, one that rides atop crests of waves upon waves of emotion and context. The music fills out the spaces that reside before us, calmly moved along by layers upon layers of sublimity, our hearts racing as much as our minds are thinking with the music being displayed to us one of great meaning and feeling. From a narrative perspective, you see stories emerging across the board, pulling and pointing us in all manner of differing directions as we seek out from deep within a place to call our own, but within the Microphase world there is certainly room for all to come in and feel like their story is being told. You feel the highs of life when the soaring top ends reach their climax, you feel reflective and moody when the extended lower frequencies have their say, and in all there is a winding notion to the momentum that always reaches a highly satisfying conclusion.


A soundtrack for urban highways. The Silent City is not merely a physical place, it is also a metaphor for the inner life.

The quote above appears alongside the 2016 release 'Tales From The Silent City', which was his second effort under the Microphase name, and it was one of those records that truly took the breath away. Right from the off, the chimes of the keys dig right into the heart, as a steady outlay of gorgeous soundscapes float through our immediate visions to great effect, the Silent City becoming filled with colour and vibrancy as we meander through its expansive streets and beautiful sun kissed vistas. It was a celebration of the synth and the power which can be activated within it, as Tzoukmanis' vision and relationship with his hardware shine through so boldy on each track and always in slightly differing ways, be it the fullness of chord lines or the textured rhythms of arpeggios, it all leads to the same point in our minds where imagination - if provided with the right soundtrack - can really get wild with it, and that is exactly the kind of activation we become involved with on this wonderful piece of music.


In 2013, Tzoukmanis would release the debut record under the Microphase name, 'Hope Is the Sister of Despair', which formally kicked off the Flambient label and introduced his new alias to the world, and to say it was quite the statement is well, an understatement. From the off it was pretty much different to everything else he had recorded before, with an inherent focus on the design of the synths and the atmosphere in which they create becoming extremely clear right from the off, with minimal drumming patterns used to great effect as a means of propping up the unravelling melodic excellence that resides in the top layer of proceedings. Its contemporary ambient techno at its finest, with plenty of nods to the past sounds of 90s Detroit and early expansive IDM from Europe, with a personal twist infused into each passing moment that just keeps the feels very much ever present and continually engaging. Released only on CD at the time, the album has received the LP reissue treatment from the always impressive Libreville Records, and we for one cannot wait to get a copy of this superb piece of music on vinyl, and with that statement, lets dive head first into this glorious piece of music and all it has to offer to us.....


Up first comes 'Blue Valentine', and this one begins with the repeating key line to get us going. The sequence moves through the octaves with a sublime swing, feeling its way out from the centre point of the scene to reach all corners of the soundscape being set out before us, the flow like water as we start to see solid chords emerge from the left hand side which only adds further intrigue to proceedings. Light rhythmic elements throw themselves into the mix to add texture and depth to the composition, as the most delicate of bass lines comes through the bottom end, chiming away to a potent degree, as we get completely absorbed into the song's structure, feeling and grooving along to its wave like vibrancy. The light key line solo that shines through around the half way mark adds further to the progression, keeping our souls afloat to the 8th degree, with further synth lines throwing themselves into the mix to keep our eyes firmly set on the prize. An opener worthy of kicking off any record, simply mesmerising. 'Raindrops' arrives next, and this one starts off with the subdued key progression to get us going. The arpeggios remain more central here, and as the seconds pass by we see their presence grow ever so slightly in regards to volume and scale, and before long they are joined by a bass line that hits the heart in all the right ways. The kicks come into the picture not long after, their placement delicately poised within the mixture of synth laden goodness as the hi hats also swing into view with meaning and fever, the groove being created one of superb feel and tone, as the sweeping chords align with the momentum to devastating effect. The outlay is now completely engrossing, serving and moving through the midsts of human expressionism as the world before us opens up to present a space filled to the brim with glorious feels and tones, with the climax arriving as the arpeggio sequence comes into view for all to see. The progression is pulled off to a T, a captivating meander through a city or rural environment that just needs an audial accompaniment to get us going, and oh how does this track make the world around us sing to its fullest degree. A beautiful piece of music. 'Disorder' arrives next, and the tone of the synths here is much more metallic in nature. The driving chordal arrangement starts off deep then rises ever so slightly higher in terms of frequency, the wave lengths not giving too much away but still providing an impressive melodic outline, with the lightest of bass lines and percussive rhythms helping to spur the feeling onwards. The kicks arrive soon after to propel us forward, with hats coming into view soon after to complete the percussive outline, with gorgeous keys sliding underneath to occupy the space between the drums and the lead chords. The resulting soundscape is as engrossing and captivating as ever, a dream like state being activated within all of us that moves into hyper drive as the snares throw themselves into the mix, with repeating flourishes adding further into the momentum. A deep chord line then emerges from across the plains, calling out to us from mountain tops set far beyond in the landscapes of tonal expressionism, keeping us fully bound to the momentum as we slide along through into the next phase, a steady flow of unravelling beauty that never fails to impress. Gorgeous stuff.


Up next comes 'Green Belt', and this one begins with the expanse to get us going. The chords feed into all the vistas that we can see, feeling all the little tree coverings and shrubs, flowing like water down the hillsides into the valley floor, never once faltering but merely multiplying across the horizon line. The original chordal progression is joined by all manner of layers as time passes by, including a enchanting undercurrent of bass that rises from above to the top, with continued elements added into the mix that keep the momentum going along at a beautiful pace indeed. The drumming pattern that comes into play helps to keep the rhythm going on strong, with the snare that arrives around the 3:30 mark truly extraordinary, like lifting something off the forest floor and bringing it to the tops of the trees. This one feels like one never ending sequence of brilliance, and it never ceases to amaze, top draw across the board. Up next comes 'Floating Free', and this one starts off with the filtered chordal progression to get us going. The way in which the chords hover in the air is reminiscent of the sea breeze, lightly embracing our cheeks as its ethereal energy runs deep to the bones. The way in which this track builds reflects perfectly the energy which the main chordal driver looks to capture, with the lightest of key sequences and arpeggios gently finding their voice amongst the sea of melodic majesty, as percussive patterns begin to emerge through the crashing waves, never standing still but merely abounding with a fantastic energy, swelling and receding at the touch of a hat. The track moves through differing wavelengths of density, as layers move in and out of time as the flickers become the significant, the minor becomes the major, and the feeling remains ever present. Beautiful. 'Free Hugs' comes next, and this one is perhaps our favourite. The chiming rhodes chords twinkle across a dazzling tundra, the bedrock of which is formed by some ethereal keys underneath, with the stage very much set for the bass line to slide into view, and the picture at this point remains very much complete. The track grabs us by the hands and places us directly in the middle of the motions that slide in and out of view, with new pads adding further to the mix that opens up in front of us as gliding lights dazzle in the distant sunset, always maintaining their presence throughout. The main chordal line acts as an anchor, keeping the other elements rooted to the ground as we sweep through the lines of melody, our hearts filled to the brim with emotion and our eyes given the world to look at. This one is truly remarkable. 'Twinkle' comes next, and this one begins with the descending key line to get us going. The texture of the keys feels like cascading water, rippling down a waterfall to arrive at a quickly growing pool which sparkles as the key line comes into view, its tone and presence adding enormously to the sense of scale that exudes from the initial melodic outlay. The kicks and bass line throw themselves into the mix as time passes by, the spaces between the kicks and claps filled up beautifully by the descending main chord line and the high end key arrangement, with the middle layer then completely filled by the arrival of the angelic pad through the middle, and like that the track feels at its most complete. The drums help to shift the track through its various stages, keeping the fire burning as we swing into a phase where the delicate thuds of the new key sequence comes into view, and this really sends us far beyond into the clouds. Stellar, simply stellar.


Up next comes 'Relief', and this one starts off with the sweeping chordal line to get us going. It's presence is one of flittering sways, its movement growing from the centre before darting off in all manner of directions, and before long we are joined by the skipping bass line that gleefully plays across the bottom ends of the track, toying with our perceptions and sense of scale. The track grows wonderfully from this point onwards, with new elements added into the mixture that only fuel the sense of momentum, our eyes drawn to the centre where all manner of new elements help to keep the progression feel very much alive. Light drumming patterns intertwine with emerging arpeggios and ever swirling chordal arrangements, as the sky that pans out before us feels so intoxicating to the touch, its scale ever growing and receding to match the ways in which the music found within keeps us filled with vitality. This one has it all. Up next comes 'Eastern Mantra', and this one starts off with the quickly evolving chordal arrangement to get us going. The chords are joined promptly by the echoed drumming pattern, the outlay growing to contain further elements as time passes by, with the ensemble content to continue vibrating along the sea floor as distant swells start to call out to us from across the waves. The distant sequences start to move closer to the foreground, their presence continuing to grow as further drums and key lines find a space to call home within the mix, as the climatic feels just keep on coming. Gorgeous, as always. '24 Hours' comes next, and this one starts off with the subterranean murmuring to get us going. The chords are solid, rising from the lowest of frequencies to one slightly just above the mix, with a maintenance of full bloodedness helping to bind us further into the emerging presence, something which gets added to as the solid note rides out above the mix. As time passes by we start to see increased activity trinkle into the top ends, as a series of chordal expressions emerge to provide that hazy warmth you only get when the sun arrives at the dawning of a new day, the colours we see setting off hope and encouragement as we begin the morning. Time continues to pass by, and as we get further into our routines and the world around us flourishes into life, the drumming patterns slide into view to respond to this new injection of energy, the lunchtime hour one of passive reflectionism as we pause amongst the hustle and bustle. The track then swerves into its downtime, as home beckons for the weary eyed where the satisfaction of a full days work seeps into the consciousness, the soothing embrace of home giving us all we need as we move through the motions. The nighttime beckons, and we can lay our heads down to rest, our lives all the more richer for having such an incredible soundtrack that followed us around. Incredible stuff. To wrap things up, we have the fittingly named 'The End', and this one starts off with the repeating chordal line to get us going. The movement between the states is mesmerising, shifting from the expected to the unexpected in true Detroit Techno fashion, as a bass line comes into view to support the motions, with rising pads throwing themselves into the mix to fuel the progression and keep our heads firmly in the clouds. Wavering key sequences keep the momentum alive to the 8th degree, as further sequences of excellence keep us firmly rooted to the narrative being presented, a final exceptional statement made on an album filled to the brim with glorious tones, exceptional vistas and most importantly, a relationship built upon vision, hardware and technique.


Electronic music sometimes speaks to us, its inner meanings reflected not just through the mystique or through emotion, but through words and memories that become conjured up in our minds via the manner in which the music is portrayed to us. The music found within this record is glorious to the touch but underneath it all there is so much more, as the varying elements found within the scope of it all communicate and interplay with one another, propping each other up with persistent encouragement and grace. We feel involved right from the off, the final piece of the puzzle, a medium between the keys, the audial environment, and Tzoukmanis himself, our relationship determined by the invisible flows that bind listeners to music, but here there is so much more to see and do. The music is so visceral, a painted picture that invites us into a world that feels alive, ever flowing, and filled to the brim with meaning, a constant engagement that keeps us going through the most difficult of times, or the quietest of moments, or indeed the busiest. Its a soundtrack to life itself, a deep and introspective piece of music that will have you searching through the deepest expanses of the mind, forever looking out for the next element to marvel over. A true masterpiece, in every shape of the word.


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