Echo of Longing – review by Julian Boyce

Echo Of Longing - Max Corbacho

Echo of Longing – a descent into darkness (Corbacho, 2019, Boyce review #1)
Those familiar with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness may enjoy a sense of déjà vu when listening to Echo of Longing, the latest (2019) release by the modern Spanish composer Max Corbacho. This may not necessarily be the comparison Corbacho had in mind but, to my ears, there is a real discovery of a sonic harmony between these two compelling works of the imagination.
Since its original publication, Heart of Darkness has been considered by most literary critics to be the first definitive modern novel of early 20th century fiction. It tells the story of a ’European’ descent into madness upon a steamboat along the Congo River into the primal beating heart of Central Africa. Likewise, its musical counterpart, Echo of Longing, takes the listener on a journey into darkness – not the darkness of delirium, but into the hidden darkness of the human psyche. And it is an extraordinary journey.
The journey discovered on Echo of Longing is divided into three distinct stages of exploration. The first and title track (‘Echo of Longing’) is the steamboat journey along the Congo itself. The soundscape slowly increases in volume in a way that suggests it has emerged up through the subconscious for an indefinite period of time before the listener is fully aware of she/he is already part of the actual composition. A multi-layered harmonic of sounds whose constituent parts are almost recognizable, but always remain just out of reach. As the steamboat slowly meanders its way into dense tropical forests which are both familiar, on one level, and totally outside modern humankind’s experience on another: savage, primal, and eternal. The track slowly coagulates into a number of spikes and pitches of arresting sounds, adding a sense of anticipation to the growing sense of what is going to touch the listening next – in the same way the steamboat never knows what it will encounter around the next bend of the river. The listener is a captive passenger heading deeper into an unexplored soundscape.
The second track, ‘Embryo of Drones’, immerses the listener into dramatic opening vistas of discovery. Spikes of sound pitch upwards and overlap into distinct pinnacles of sensory experience (imagine slow cresting waves of sound) – in much the same way the steamboat discovers the extraordinary Mr. Kurtz in his remote waystation, succumbed to a surreal juxtaposition of ancient nature and primitive tribal rituals, all fleetingly glimpsed. Yet, ‘the horror…the horror’ of the denouement within the book is reassuringly kept at bay by the assured passage Corbacho provides the listener. He is an old hand at the tiller of sound. We float past – and upon – these extraordinary aural events towards a brighter horizon, not left stranded to our fate in the darkness!
The final track, ‘The Noble Beyond’, is a slow burn back towards consciousness. As the steamboat backtracks upriver towards (?) civilization, so too does Corbacho carefully haul the listener up from the depths of the subconscious and back into the reassuring light of reality. Where dark sounds threatened, now an increasingly overlayered soundscape of light encourages us on the last leg of our journey. Quite simply, there are beautiful passages of sound to encourage that all’s well with the world – a world of hope. Finally, to disembark from our journey, somehow refreshed, exhilarated and feeling positive – yet, secretly looking forward to our next trip into the very heart of imaginative darkness on the good ship Corbacho.

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