The Human Transcription
March 2015 – Self-released
01. Mussolini (Italian)
02. Charlie Chaplin (English)
03. Hitler (German)
04. Lula de Silva (Portuguese)
05. North Korean Soldiers (Korean)
06. Gaddafi (Arabic)
07. King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden (Swedish)
08. Sarkozy (French)
09. Hugo Chavez (Spanish)
If there is an elephant in the room of progressive metal, it’s that often it doesn’t actually progress anything at all. – but fortunately every once in a while we do see some genuine innovation.
Venezuelan-born guitarist Felix Martin is most certainly an innovator, having developed a two-handed tapping style so unique he has had to have his dual necked, fourteen string guitars custom-made to his specifications. After setting out his sound, combining elements of metal, jazz and Latin American styles on previous releases, The Human Transcription adds yet another factor to an already singular proposition.
Effectively, The Human Transcription is the realisation of a thought experiment. Felix set himself the task of teasing out the innate rhythms and melodies of the spoken word, in a variety of different languages. The product of these experiments is an nine track adventure into a cerebral territory similar to that explored by the likes of Blotted Science and Fantômas, albeit with its own distinctive twist.
The foundation of each track is a carefully selected excerpt of a speech delivered – mostly – by characters of varying degrees of historical and political infamy, including Hitler, Mussolini, Gaddafi and Chavez, speaking in their respective mother tongues. The exception to the rule is the Korean offering, which is a compilation of four briefer clips from an assortment of anonymous spokespersons. With the tracks being governed so completely by the speech, they each assume very different personalities.
As one might expect, The Human Transcription is not exactly an easy or straightforward listen. Felix has treated the original recordings of the speeches as sacrosanct, so they have not been edited to suit the generally accepted parameters of tempo or metre. So traditional verse-chorus song structures and uniform time signatures have been politely but firmly shown the door. First listens, even by those acclimatised to this hyper-complex approach through jazz, tech-metal or Felix’s own back catalogue, are likely to be a bewildering affair, but perseverance pays considerable dividends.
For many, the key to unlocking the mysteries of The Human Transcription will lie in the sole English language track on offer. It’s basis is the renowned and often quoted speech made by Charlie Chaplin at the end of The Great Dictator. This speech has already been set to music on a number of occasions – perhaps most notably by post-rock magicians Nordic Giants on the track “Mechanical Minds” and The Chariot on “Cheek” – but, naturally, in the past the speech has been the icing, whereas here it is the cake. For our purposes though, both the familiarity of the language and of the precise speech itself should help the intrepid listener to comprehend Felix’s approach to the project. If this is not enough, then Felix is releasing a series of videos of the recording sessions to give people some visual insights as well.
It is somewhat remarkable just how faithfully Felix’s lead parts follow the speeches themselves. This slavish attention to detail can only be the product of a tremendous amount of effort over an equally tremendous period of time. Literally every syllable of every speech is assigned a note and replicated through Felix’s fretboard(s) – but the real alchemy is to be found in the accompaniment, where Felix and along with drummers Philip V Galatioto and Vitaliy Minyalo as well as his main bass player Kilian Duarte and also Nathan Navarro and Ali Tovar somehow transform the speeches, effectively, from prose into poetry. Riffs and flourishes pop up and vanish again at a breakneck speed. Time signatures and tempos change in a heartbeat.
For all their brain-melting complexity, each piece is both remarkably cohesive and positively dripping with its own individual character. Hitler’s German speech is caustic and dissonant, whilst Gaddafi’s Arabic is frantic and staccato. Hugo Chavez’s Spanish is given a more mischievous read, in line with the speech itself, in which he calls George W Bush a donkey.
It would be fair to say that The Human Transcription will not be for everyone, and for others still it will be a curio, but for those who both like their music to be challenging and possess the stamina to put in the number of listens required for it to even start making sense (probably about half a dozen), The Human Transcription delivers in spades.
It has been ten long years since we last had new music from Fantômas to get our teeth into, and Felix goes a very long way towards filling that hole. Constantly surprising, densely packed with original thinking, simultaneously playful and deadly serious, The Human Transcription is a rare treasure for those interested in music that really pushes the envelope of what can be done with guitar, bass and drums.