We come to the sound as if from far away, we have to get close to hear it. We listen and wonder how long it’s been happening. Already it’s slipping, shifting into something else—music? Already we forget how long we’ve been listening.
Currents of Eternal Energy is the first full length album from Aura, current moniker of South City-based multi-instrumentalist and electronic artist, Austin Zink. Zink released Currents on the 2021 Autumn Equinox, one of two days when dark and light are in symmetry on Earth. But the autumnal also marks nature’s shift from growing to dying. Aura’s music itself is full of thresholds and transformations. Drum machines, sequencers and a galaxy of synths want to become more than housings of electronic signals just as we often dream of becoming other than human. Scanning the track titles, you’re struck by the verbs: shift, touch, slip, enter, consume. But we’re in a metaphysical rather than a physical register: “Spiritual Shift”, “Touched by the Void and Beauty”, “Slipping Through Reality and the Meaning of Everything”, “Enter the Consuming Light”. These titles are too disturbed and full of doubt to be New Age, too direct and pure in their pursuit of meaning to appeal to DIY culture’s rampant irony and nihilism. The titles could function as a sort of acid test before the music: if you’re not willing to understand or engage this music’s sincerity, you’ll likely immediately fade.
Zink’s previous explorations of electronic music include Deux Plex—a dungeon pop duo with his wife Milena (of legendary anti-band Willis), which veered from Eurotrash poetics to absurd inside humor to illimitable love songs. But his more recent solo project, Flux, was the direct precursor to Aura. Exploratory, the sounds less controlled, songforms not yet crystallized, Flux released a single album, Inward, in August of 2020, the back half of which is composed of demos and “failed” tracks. Failed by the musician’s standard, yet still included as humble documents of effort, existence, getting somewhere. The fragments bristle with incongruous grooves, static, growl, then die abruptly. As a listener, you’re witnessing an artist struggle with themself, fascinated by the fried sonics and themes, but more perhaps anticipating what will come out of the struggle.
Currents begins with “Spiritual Shift”, Aura caught mid-emergence, literally mid-sound, with little fade-in to situate us. Unsure, we proceed among baroque, stalactite synths dripping to their waiting tips, the splashes ringing out in sawtooth. The melody feels both direct and elusive, like listening to adoration or mourning. We’re attending an underground funeral: candles flicker upon cave drawings, expectance drenches this preface. We’re alone, there’s no procession. We’re alone and the music is like God, or the music is the spirit rising off the body like black steam. We don’t know where it’s going, there’s a story but there aren’t words. And immediately we forget how long we’ve been listening, as in trance. We don’t notice the dark vacillations of feedback (guitar?) until they eclipse the scale. It sounds like a ventilator or a womb’s insides.
Before we know what this “spiritual shift” even means, we’re on the run. “Touched by the Void and Beauty” opens with mean syncopated throbs of bass that simultaneously create and align with the tension in our pulse. Hi-hats pursue at a slinky rushed mid-tempo. It’s Zink’s spare, nuanced sense of rhythm that grounds Currents, gives it its edge, the earthly moorings that the high synth melodies strain and pull at as they yearn for eternity. Windlike synths descend, plaintive, dilating your listening and closing your eyes. The track could ride this way for five, ten, twenty minutes, but Zink seems to follow a personal, visionary sense of form, one that always threatens to shatter the tracks at their most pleasurable. Nearly halfway through, the music’s suspense fades out with almost unbearable gradualness. If you’re really listening, it shocks. Time maybe has stopped. Then bursts back in almost softly. . . that rushed mid-tempo swing, melodies that build and search and search. The disruption shouldn’t have worked, or maybe I write that because the break heeds only Zink’s vision, rather than the rules of a rhythm we share. At some point it becomes obvious that whatever the music or we are chasing has escaped or isn’t what we thought it was at all.
Stranded, we hear water. It’s too dark to see, but we hear it flowing. “Rivir” is the album’s hypnotic centerpiece. Its opening strains of synth—arcane, siren, whole—will writhe throughout the entirety, though almost everything else in the music will change. When I ask him about this song’s origins, Zink mentions Hermann Hesse’s 1922 novel, Siddharta. In the novel, the protagonist endures every earthly tribulation and loss before finally devoting himself to simplicity, asceticism, melting into the universe. He “sees or hears the connection of everything and the ebb and flow, push and pull of the universe,” says Zink. And I remember reading the book half my life ago, in high school, wanting to leave my family and my home and my school and friends in an act of ascetic abandon. Fuck you world! A desperate stunt which of course would transcend nothing. For Zink though, Siddhartha’s desire for something beyond this life is warm, gentle, palpable. “I view people as generally closed off. Unable to be reached. So I try to open myself. Accept myself. Maybe open my eyes to a new way of seeing. The goal is to live your life already one with everything and to see the true meaning in things so that death becomes meaningless. Words have a way of oversimplifying it.”
And yet “Rivir” is full of words. Here, for the first time on Currents, Zink sings his ideas. Polished, lithic, loaded with symbolic import as religious monuments or tombs, the lyrics are simultaneously transparent and opaque. Most singers could not deliver lines like “to see through new eyes / a magical universe / to shed the skin / that binds you to the body”—not without some hint of ironic distance, humor, acid in their throats. Zink delivers them in a pure, understated baritone, which rests sagely beneath the wheeling firmament of music. This is Zink’s most ornate arrangement to date: reverb-rich acoustic guitars, feedback, contrapuntal synths, hissing mid-tempo hi-hats, vocals rising then bleeding out to a trickle of water. But “Rivir” is most striking and ambitious for its formal enactment of reincarnation. The main musical themes are established, fade, die, then are reborn in new shapes, a cycle that repeats multiple times in the song’s thirteen-plus minutes (even if you listen with the sole intent of counting the cycle, you get lost). Basslines modulate ever-heavier, rhythms double, harden, breathe, the pull of earthly life tempts and the vocals become more angelic and anguished. Zink sings against the synths, distending the song with reincarnating harmonic values. “Rivir” is an endless suite; Zink tells us explicitly what he wants: “to escape time.”
It ends. The second half of Currents opens with two short tracks that douse harmony, instead embracing drone, dissonance, abstraction. In the minimalist dirge, “Slipping Through Reality and the Meaning of Everything”, Zink uses the same sonic elements as before, but now shadows fall across their faces: those same, patient, relentless hi-hats now sinisterly await you, panting like dogs; bass is replaced by serrated tambura-like feedback; the reverberant guitar arpeggiates madly, like chains shaking. We resist change. Light eviscerates the dirge. “Enter the Consuming Light” exposes us to Aura’s darkest intensity. And yet in the darkness we can glean the rich spectrum of Zink’s musical palette: black metal hoarfrost, Syd Barrett, Coil’s transgressive magic, avant-plainsong, punk’s spartan artists, and the foamy fringe of every wave of synth. Exhilarated, so close to the void, we claw at what we can.
Nothing prepares us for “Eterna”. Rhythms gone, useless. Drift egoless in a peristalsis of fanfares. Lapping, braying, overlapping. Infinity still can swell, feel it. Sixteen restive minutes begin to take on the feel of forever—still want it? The solace of eternity so easily blinks into nightmare. That it’s still beautiful is the exhilarant. Forget, as the moments split, that this was made. That it’s music. Then remember again.
Listen to “Currents of Eternal Energy” via Bandcamp below: