Cat #
PAN 138
Billy Bultheel
Two Cycles

Billy Bultheel’s debut solo album is an ambitious distillation of the composer’s,’ sprawling litany of influences and his unique approach to site-specific composition. A compilation of pieces created between 2016 and 2023, the album is a forceful testament to Bultheel’s expansive performance practice and collaborations with cutting-edge visual artists like Anne Imhof and James Richards.

Drawing inspiration from industrial music and metal as well as medieval and baroque polyphony, Bultheel devised a way to present this collection of works side-by-side. The record is split into two distinct cycles: the Snow Cycle, which collects Bultheel’s electro-acoustic and compositional work, and the Game Cycle, which assembles his electronic productions. These two suites have unmistakable symmetry; Bultheel’s traditional compositions are bolstered by his understanding of electronic production, while his electronic pieces are moulded by his knowledge of classical and traditional music. “Two Cycles” is an album that exhibits duality, embodying the dichotomy of Bultheel’s roles as both an ensemble composer and an electronic producer.

While ‘Two Cycles’ is his inaugural solo endeavor, it’s not Bultheel’s first foray into PAN’s extended universe. Since 2012, he has been an active collaborator alongside the German visual artist and choreographer Anne Imhof and US artist Eliza Douglas. Notably, their creative synergy bore fruit in the form of ‘FAUST’ in 2019 and ‘SEX’ in 2021, both of which were released on PAN. Last year, Bultheel joined forces with Alexander Iezzi, operating under the moniker ’33,’ where they skillfully amalgamated club music with the raw authenticity of DIY punk and the intricate charm of baroque harmonies on the C.A.N.V.A.S.-released album ’33-69’.

However, Bultheel’s true artistic sanctuary resides within the realm of live performance. From a very young age, he harbored an ardent desire to fuse the timeless elegance of renaissance music with the avant-garde allure of distorted electronics. His quest was further guided by a deep reverence for the ritualistic aspects of communal experiences. Inspired by pioneering composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis, and baroque masters like Claudio Monteverdi, Bultheel has undertaken a relentless mission to deconstruct the traditional confines of the concert hall and explore new territories for musical experiences. In doing so, he orchestrates performances in unconventional settings, compelling both musicians and spectators to approach his music as a geographic composition.

The haunting opening track of the ‘Snow Cycle’, ‘The Arcades Project’, — named after the unfinished compendium of architectural contemplations penned by the eminent German philosopher, Walter Benjamin – places four tubas in strategic towers surrounding the audience, creating an immersive auditory experience. Conversely, ‘The Snows of Venice’ — named after Alexander Kluge and Ben Lerner collection of short stories and poems — was conceived for two flautists directed to intertwine their melodies as they traversed through knee-high water.

The ‘Game Cycle’ meanwhile places a strong emphasis on rhythm, crafting a sonic landscape that resonates with overdriven metallic clanks and sharp stabs. Drawing upon his extensive experience in composing for choreography, Bultheel envisions a series of jittery dances that purposefully deviate from conventional timelines. ‘Decreation’ infuses techno with the visceral qualities of noise music and ‘Game Theory’ offers an unsettling skeletal barrage of saturated,

precisely tuned percussive hits. Bultheel brings ‘Two Cycles’ to a close with ‘Gigue,’ a reference to the 6/8 baroque court dance that traditionally marked the conclusion of a dance suite; by merging marching rhythms performed by two percussionists on a single drum set with chaotic and evocative synth leads, he establishes a tantalizing counterpoint.

‘Two Cycles’ is a musical compilation that explores the themes of locale and landscape, elucidating the intricate dynamics that arise between the musicians and their audience, the ears and the architecture. Considering timbre, density and the psycho-acoustic qualities of communal spaces, from the warehouse to the cathedral, Bultheel draws indelible lines between seemingly distant concepts, merging the celestial with the terrestrial.

The double album cover, one for each side and cycle on the record, features a collage created by the Welsh video artist James Richards that merges medieval iconography with snippets of queer memorabilia.

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