Descending, Expanding, Ascending, Integrating: Bluetech’s ‘Holotrope’ LP is a meditative sound healing experience [Album Review]
Evan Bartholomew has had a prolific year of releases under his Bluetech moniker. The San Diego resident is celebrating the double release of his Liquid Geometries LP and Liquid Geometries In Dub remix album.Not to mention, he’s still riding the high of a Billboard-charting release in his Sci-Fi Lullabies LP, which is an eight-track psychedelic journey into ambient downtempo. It’s these non-traditional electronic spaces, well beyond the fringes of mainstream dance music, that Bluetech feels most at home.
How does one producer compile so much material in the span of only one year? Well, Bluetech is no newcomer to the dance music scene. Bartholomew has been releasing on a handful of consciously-attuned independent labels since 2003. From the blended sounds of IDM, dub, ambient, and downtempo on 2005’s Sines and Singularities to 2011’s Rainforest Reverberation to his self-released Space Chronicles Vol. 1 LP in 2014, Bluetech is an IDM veteran, tastemaker, and self-releases on his label in San Diego.
But before accomplishing any of his career milestones, Bluetech was born into music. Classically trained on the piano, Bartholomew always knew he was destined to be a musician. However, he often found himself deviating from the traditional approaches to music composition he learned in school and began teaching himself to listen to the rhythms that arose naturally from within him. After discovering electronic music in 1990 through artists like The Orb, Spacetime Continuum, Irresistible Force, Vapourspace, and Brian Eno, the Bluetech sound came to life.
Music is something that is essential to who I am as a person and has to come out of me. So I guess I just trust the process, and allow whatever is needing to come through to come through.” — Bluetech, Psybient
Musically grounded, yet free of music’s conventional restraints, Bartholomew was mostly interested in the electronic interpretation of nature’s expression of being, which he expresses by creating “organic” samples from analog and modular synthesizers. He dove deep into this form of musical expression, which often gets conveyed as IDM, digi-dub, and psychedelic bass. It is in these in-between spaces where Bluetech learned to blend all his favorite elements of genre and form, crafting his own uniquely postmodern aesthetic.
Experience allows me the freedom to not second guess myself. I’m not ‘trying’ to make music, or make a particular sound, or keep up with what is happening in any given scene. I just create, and explore whatever feels right in the moment.” — Bluetech
Fresh off a summer run of festival appearances at consciousness-raising events like Infrasound, Bluetech now returns with a deep dive into genre-defying electronic music on his new double LP, Holotrope.
Inspired by Holotropic Breathwork, a mystic practice from which the album derives its name, Bluetech means to create the sonic equivalent to this conscious meditative practice in the LP’s listening experience. Translating to “moving towards wholeness,” Holotropic seeks to foster a sense of self-exploration and personal empowerment within its listeners. Much like meditative breath work, the album calls up our innate inner wisdom and its capacity to move us toward positive transformation and wholeness.
Imagined as a psychonaut’s journey into inner space and back, the full-length effort contains four distinct continuously mixed journeys, each designed to fill a single side of vinyl. Holotrope unfolds through the four movements of Descending, Expanding, Ascending, and Integrating. Along the way, Bluetech puts his signature design elements on display — from ping-ponging melodic interplay and creative modular synthesis to atmospheric sound designs and dubwise fx manipulation.
Take the first three songs on the album, which together make up the Descendant phase. The music charts a serpentine path through ever deep states of being, beginning with a centering in the physical body and descending into the realms of expanded awareness and ego dissolution. From the outset of “Stone, River, & Shadow,” the song’s organic elements ground listeners in nature, while its cinematic, ominous undertones take them through the discomforting process of getting out of the mind and into the body.
Then, as listeners are eased in by the chanted vocal melodies on “Afterimage Flare,” one begins to loosen and release. There are clear influences from dub and deep techno here, with an intro that gleans towards ambient lounge music and becomes overtaken over by a dominant horn. Thoughts go rushing by, attempting to make their way into the conscious mind, but the music casts all sporadic thought aside as xylophone synths and steady tribal rhythms take listeners deeper into submission.
As Bluetech transitions smoothly into the third track, “Turning Inside Out,” the songs begin to feel more like one long, drawn-out mixtape. Technical elements from the previous track carry over as listeners continue grounding themselves in Eastern-influenced sounds that become increasingly more calming and relaxing. Here is a mystical landscape that sends off a vibratory frequency of transformation. Yogic chords, beautiful arps, and spacey synths do all the talking here as the song begins to invoke a coming journey.
“Blisswave 2.0” marks a clear page turn into a new chapter as listeners are moved into the Expansion phase. The space is decorated with Tipper-esque elements, with crackling downward synth patterns and glitchy breakbeats leading the forward momentum. Around the next corner, “Heart Logic” creates a sonic landscape that resembles a heart monitor, with a steady pulsating beat structure that calls up a beating heart and allows one to get into their heart center (Anahata, in ancient Sanskrit). As new percussive upbeats and offbeats are introduced to the time measure, here is when listeners begin moving into the transformation phase as they leave the body.
As its title would suggest, “Seeing With The I” is all about the ego. Ethereal horns kickstart the track as Eastern strings and light-hearted arps soon take over. The journey becomes about the struggle to let go of the ego to begin seeing with the awareness of the third-eye, or Ajna chakra.
After “Spectral Currents,” a funky journey that incites moving further beyond the third-eye chakra, Bluetech brings his listeners further into the ascension phase with “Astral Cartography.” The musical elements here invoke a range of intertangled emotions that unlock the portal to Sahasrara, or the crown chakra, where the doorway into the spiritual realm sits.
Then comes “Eye Within Wheels,” a cross between psychedelic downtempo and chill electro. Light-hearted, glitchy tones and skittering, spacey synths are strewn over a calming melody line, thereby moving listeners to the crown of the head and urging them to leave the body completely. A 20-second outro of cascading samples and technological tones leaves listeners in a state of wonder as they anticipate the next move.
“Dissolution By Proxy” marks a distinct shift in tone, texture, and vibratory frequency. This is meditation music at its core. Heavenly sound sampling, calming chords, and light strings all invoke the sounds of what passing through clouds might feel like if humans could fly. As a subtle grounding bass line is introduced, so too comes the Eastern synth arrangements as tempo begins to gradually pick up. There is no end in sight as the track leads directly into the next.
With nowhere else to go but up, “Awakening / Serpent’s Tail” continues to lead the journey into the vast cosmo stretches of the outerworldly inner self. After the heavenly sounds subside from the previous track, giving way to piano chords and ping-ponging synths, true mind exploration begins. A mood of empowerment takes hold as listeners are led fluidly into the final track.
A true Alpha/Omega track in itself, “The End in the Beginning, The Beginning is in the End” eases listeners into a state of awareness that transcends all time and action. All that exists here is an ever-eternal present. Guided by an illusory sense of self, listeners are free to embrace the feeling of comfort in having dettached completely from their own identity and thought patterns.
I would hope that my work creates a doorway by which people have access to something greater than themselves.” — Bluetech, Bullet Music
This space is marked by a genuine sense of connectedness to all things, where everything is everything, along with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the journey. As the track winds down, and time begins to creep back into conscious thought, there is an awakened sense of knowing that although the end is in sight, the next moment will begin with clarity and strength.
When all is said and done, one emerges from Bluetech’s holotropic world renewed and refreshed. It’s a world ripe with themes of meditation, lucid dreaming, and journeying into the imaginary realms of thought. Along the way, Holotrope presents a cohesive map of movement through layers of perception. The map is an unwritten guide which listeners learn how to descend in order to expand, and ascend in order to integrate, all through musical enlightenment. At the end of the journey, the album is less about breathwork and more of a sound healing experience.
I believe music is a form of dreaming. It’s a way that we step out of the linear flow of time, and begin to experience time in a more expanded way. In a piece of music, you can lose time. Time can speed up, and it’s obviously about the punctuation of time, but it causes your perception of time to change.” — Bluetech
Careful and intentional, intelligent and symbolic, and highly technical at its core, what Bluetech’s Holotropic musters up is a cutting-edge doctrine of conscious bass music. Despite touching down in so many territories — from ambient, downtempo, and space disco to electro, dub house, and “space-hop” — Holotrope still contains a cohesive aesthetic that is instantly recognizable as the radiant Bluetech sound. It’s a sound that all purveyors of conscious bass music ought to study and implement in their own technical practice.
Fans can catch Bluetech next at Resonate Festival this Friday, October 11, along with many more tour dates throughout 2019-2020, culminating at the 13th annual Gem & Jam Festival next year, January 31-February 3. Listen to Holotrope in full below.
Featured Photo: Eric Allen Photo.
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