Allen Ravenstine’s turbulent futurism behind the synthesizer was a key ingredient in American post-punk innovators Pere Ubu’s distinctive sound. Just as Brian Eno’s malevolent modulations had adulterated the glam-rock swagger of Roxy Music before him, Ravenstine’s corrosive tones oozed through his band’s songs like radioactive seepage, illuminating their otherwise guitar-driven landscapes with a strange chemical glow.
In addition to playing with them from 1975-1989, he also co-owned the Plaza, a historic apartment complex in Central Cleveland where Pere Ubu members lived and created alongside a vibrant community of other artists. Music took a backseat for Ravenstine afer leaving the group, among other things he obtained his pilot’s license and wrote a novel. The invitation to spar with fellow synthesist Robert Wheeler in 2012 for Waveshaper Media’s acclaimed synth documentary I Dream Of Wires reignited his dormant sonic interests. Since then, he’s unleashed a handful of recordings.
The analog abstraction for which he became known remains a significant part of Ravenstine’s current sound palette, but recent years have seen him turn increasingly toward outlandish eclecticism as his foundation. 2018’s celebrated Waiting for the Bomb (RER Megacorp) bounded freely between disparate styles and instrumentation, all the while managing to convey a cohesive (albeit of-kilter) identity.
Ravenstine is now launching his much-anticipated follow-upon Waveshaper—a series of four EPs collectively entitled The Tyranny of Fiction. Materializing as a pair of LPs with one EP per side, or as two double CD sets, these works continue to chronicle the approach unveiled on their predecessor. The cheeky series title hints at a tension that’s fundamental to these recordings. Ravenstine’s use of genre suggests it’s almost a literary device to him—unsurprising, given his forays into the realm prose. Styles will ofen allude to underlying thematic or narrative elements. However, friction begins to arise when this is juxtaposed with his surreal sense of orchestration. He takes pure electronic sound, nuggets of real -world recordings, live instrumentation and the latter’s sampled counterparts and stirs them all together vigorously. This makes for decidedly unfaithful reproductions of the various musical idioms his composition cite, leaving the listener to contend with constant dissonance—every feature of the music feels at once completely familiar and utterly inscrutable.
Even within the brief span of each installment of The Tyranny of Fiction, Ravenstine gleefully embraces a panoply of modalities. ElectronMusic, the first of the bunch, uses ornery ambient music as its jumping-of point, embarking on excursions into hyperreal chamber music, and swarming sci-fi synthesizer. Shore Leave announces itself with a spartan piano miniature decorated with a sof trickling sound before a meandering into cubist exotica, sinister new age music, and what sound like 21st century nocturnes. A host of other mongrel styles spill forth over the course of Nautilus. Each track weaves its own wayward travelogue amidst stray bits of audio verité and wafting musical fragrances—by turns tropical and foreboding. Rue De Poisson Noir takes cues from its fragmentary companion, slithering between cinematic intrigue, of-brand jazz, avant-garde mischief, and fried electro without batting an eye. At various points throughout, Ravenstine’s fried citationality might recall a young generation of Ohioan oddballs, Orange Milk Records. Like many acts on the innovative electronic music imprint, Ravenstine’s colorful, innuendo-rich music is restless, playful, inquisitive and most of all evocative—never resorting to irony or other such ploys.