Hear a track from one of our favourite records of 2016 so far.

After putting out a few records under the alias Timoka, Swiss artist Benjamin Kilchhofer ditched his computer for a modular synth and, like so many other converts to the modular cause, was immediately seduced by its holistic approach to sound design and composition.

All of which would mean nothing if the end result was yet another record of aimless modular noodling (please, no more), but Kilchhofer might have made one of our favourite releases of the year in Dersu, seven tracks of weaving polyrhythms and eerie ambience infused with mountain air, due in April on the Marionette label. Check out the tumbling percussion and lichen-covered textures of ‘Chanka’ below.

Akira Kurosawa’s 1975 film adaptation of Wladimir Arsenjev’s book Dersu Uzala, about a Russian soldier’s encounter with a Siberian hunter, was the record’s immediate inspiration. “It’s about the relationship between humans and nature,” says Kilchhofer. “The most beautiful story but also one of the saddest.”

Explaining his efforts to reflect the natural world in the EP, he adds: “I seldom read a nature description which really captures all aspects of nature: the light, the smell, the details and the sheer vastness of landscapes, mountains and woods. It’s an abstract feeling one gets, and I think music is the perfect medium to describe this, given that music itself is something very abstract.”

Dersu was recorded in live takes with his modular setup, a process that took hours or sometimes days, after which he added polysynths and layers of field recordings and vocals. “I try to play everything live so that a certain energy is noticeable in the recordings,” he says.

“With the decision to avoid the computer as composition tool I managed to free the boundaries and structures of my music in a very natural way. The tracks are longer and more minimalistic, but inside every second you have a living system which breathes and evolves.”

Dersu is out on the Marionette label on April 30 – pre-order it from Phonica and all the usual quality outlets.

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