Heather H Celeste is a New York-based visual and sound artist whose work has been mostly been circulating in the form of virtual releases and discussed only in certain corners of the independent art press. She speaks in guru-like riddles, capitalising words such as Consciousness, Perception and State of mind. Journalists writing about her end up talking about New York experimentalists, about brutalist architecture, about postmodernism, about theories of geometry. There’s something overly serious about her, and something manic or almost possessed about her music, like she’s running away with an idea and following it until what it gives is strange or unexpected. I don’t know where she’s going, but she’s worth keeping an ear on.
Modern Death, not one but two discs for Celeste’s first oeuvre to receive physical status, is a joint effort of the French labels Anywave and Lentonia, a collaboration which also reflects the record’s various identities. The title suits: Modern Death, riding on the black sea of coldwave but doing so with a laser-like sparseness, contemporary but not hipsterish, glossy but noir. Hats off also at the fact that she routinely breaks the 10 minute mark, displaying a sense of occasion as well as a flair for progression, for development, for understanding the importance of atmosphere-building.
It’s airy but harsh which – rather like a good brutalist building – is something Celeste does well: she’s able to conjugate metallic textures with a certain glamour
Celeste’s phantasmagoria opens with the shadowy drone of ‘Zero Population’, a wall of fuzz pierced here and there by a laser-like synth, and dives straight into the aquatic techno of ‘You Are Here’, an irregular, interesting, ‘off’ kind of piece, playful as well as epic, with brushstrokes of industrial textures. Another two sides of Celeste’s work are displayed in ‘Vertical’, a slow sensual blur broken by alarm-like buzzes, and ‘Traces’, a piercing thing with a regular beat which seems to wink to early ‘90s cold electro sounds. Then, as if accompanied into a room of her (and everybody’s) past, ‘Technicolour’ might just be one of those rare odes to old school minimal synth which don’t fall into sounding like a copy of minimal synth: fun and games with everybody’s favourite Microkorg presents, evanescent background musings about technicolour, flashes in a 1980s night which nevertheless speaks from the present. And from here on, now that you trust her, off she goes on all kinds of deepenings of the talents and visions she’s already introduced: ‘Polarize’, ‘Palisades’, ‘Dream Figures’ are abstract compositions that show off more of that hypnotised, dream-like palette, whereas tracks like ‘Opaque’, ‘Lasers’ and ‘Lemon Trade’ continue to play with techno-synth suggestions, cueing up feverish dance beats which sometimes open onto bright, breezy planes before sweeping you back down into the glacial abyss. Some of the most interesting pieces here are ‘Modern Age’, which is deeper somehow, more texturally dense than the titletrack (the two sit together as sister pieces in the belly of the record) and the very inspired quasi-industrial vaporous pulse of ‘Chiral’. It’s airy but harsh which – rather like a good brutalist building in fact – is something Celeste does well: she’s able to keep together metallic textures and a certain glamour, a certain wind-in-hairness which doesn’t soften the harder edges as much as it makes them more seductive, more communicative somehow. For the finale we are accompanied down another 15 minute hallucinating, hallucination-inducing corridor of quickly-varying sonic impressions. This kind of thing it isn’t Celeste at her most interesting, but it’s brave, serious and even hypnotising, if you let yourself really listen – this is a record that demands time and self-transport, which ditches you if you’re not with it and rewards you when you’re really there. Which is fair enough: Mademoiselle Celeste is quite a captivating discovery, you’d be silly to be thinking of something else.