Russian duo Kristina Karpysheva and Alexander Letsius are 404.zero, audio-visual creators whose debut album places them firmly amongst the best ambient producers currently working. If you consider William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops to be an important piece of music (and if you don’t then why the hell not?) then 404.zero may well be your new favourite slow-noise makers. Their debut album 404.0 is a mesmerising listen, full of sounds pulled far apart from their original source to sound at once like nothing and everything.
Deconstructing drone sounds for review brings to mind how the relationship between listener and text changes given the circumstances, and arguably the listening experience alters every time due to the enveloping depth of the work. That proves to be true with 404.0, as the duo’s mastery of their sonic palette reveals a new element from the fertile sonic terrain on each repeat listen.
The eight tracks that make up 404.0 mutate and twist into each other; the symbiosis of sound is crucial to an appreciation of the noises created by the duo. The word ‘created’ does not always seem applicable – teased, reframed, mangled, assembled or wrestled seem more appropriate at various stages of the record.
The album opens with “404.1”, a track with far too much going on under the surface to be labelled either ambient or drone – yet it paradoxically feels like both. Spirals of obfuscated sound oscillate in dizzying fashion as an ever-expanding noise emerges from the depths of the mix; a threatening presence that hovers throughout. There is a desire to simply restart the album in order to revisit the sounds not fully appreciated first time around. Valiantly, dear reader, we reject our impulses and move on.
404.zero drag us into “404.2” with a sweeping crescendo that shakes off the pensive sedation from the opening track. This second track crackles, pops and creaks to produce a full-blown moment of ASMR. It brings to mind warped old film footage of underground medical experiments; machines being used to open up the minds of not-so-willing patients in experiments focused on psychotropic advancement by doctors who can no longer work during daylight hours for various nefarious reasons. At least, that’s what some may visualise.
In short, where “404.1” bristles with a burning intensity, “404.2” is eerie, like the opening scene in Blue Velvet where David Lynch beautifully moves our attention to the savagery of life under our perfectly-maintained lawns. As opening salvos go, it’s hard to think of a better two tracks for a debut album in this field.
The slow burning “404.3” compares favourably to Sunn O)))’s drone rapture and Autechre’s more drawn-out efforts, and you feel as though it could (and probably should) go on for much longer than the track’s mere nine minutes. “404.4” continues the idea of tones in simultaneous contrast and unison that was displayed “404.2”, as it melds full-on shamanic-invocation-through-noise with twisting, scrawling, high-pitched scratching noises that sound both natural and unnatural at the same time, like pained whale music. There is a lot going on here.
“404.5” opens with a Blade Runner-era Vangelis synth tone before a distant and mangled instrument joins the fray; at one moment it seems to be a guitar, the next a harpsichord or something similar. The point is less about the instrumentation but the response; less about the messenger but the message. Sound, then, is used as a conduit toward an examination of our psychological impulses.
404.zero have arrived with an album of rapturous beauty which uplifts, delights and enchants. Washes of sound and acoustic energy bathe the listener, while aural pulses soothe and alarm in equal measure. This is an album to get lost in, one that invites you to explore its array of textures anew on each listen and to wander around the visuals conjured in your mind. Herein lies the rub: 404.0 needs the listener’s engagement, time, empathy and basic humanity. Anything less would be doing the record an injustice.