“Ambient music is intended to induce calm and space to think,” Brian Eno said. Rarely have I encountered an album that fits Eno’s description better than Desensitized’s debut album “Hemispherica Portalis”. Veteran artists Deborah Martin and Dean De Benedictis’s album contains nothing less than seven “portals” that lead to unique and alien destinations. Like a well-written sci-fi novel, Desensitized’s music is world-building on a massive scale. This kind of ambient often feels experimental, but that is not the case with “Hemispherica Portalis”. The melodies seem to represent far-away and exotic cultures. That is a major accomplishment.
Original “Under The Moon” is the name of Deborah Martin’s breakthrough album, released in 1995 on Spotted Peccary Music – and she has so far released 10 albums under her own name. She has also worked with artists such as Erik Wøllo and the Hemi-Sync project (to which she has contributed four albums). In terms of inspiration, Deborah says: “I simply close my eyes and imagine what it would have been like to exist in another time, another place, and then the music comes.” Dean De Benedictis has recorded under his own name (three albums to date, the latest being “Salvaging the Present” (2015) and under the alias Surface 10. He has played with groups such as Brand X and The Stratos Ensemble. Desensitized is a genuine ambient super-duo, bringing the best of not only one world of music – but many.
Hemispherica Portalis (Portal of 1000 Years)
The title track opens the album. We are greeted by Desensitized’s signature sound; many intertwining melodies. The flute seems both earthly and alien at the same time. There are also several layers of lead synths. One would think that such a multitude of sounds all fighting for attention would be overwhelming and chaotic. But it isn’t, and the reason is simple; the overall sound design keeps it in line. The many voices become one. That is perhaps also why the music seems otherworldly. “Hemispherica Portalis (Portal of 1000 Years)” is a phenomenal album opener and a solid introduction to the music project. It makes the listener curious to where the other portals might lead.
“Concunus Dracus (Dragon of the Heavens)” wastes no time on an introduction. We instantly find ourselves riding on the back of a mighty dragon, and we can hear it hissing and breathing. The atmosphere is, as you might expect, warm and protective. We obviously have nothing to fear when we are under the dragon’s protective wing. There are many fascinating textures here too, making the landscape feel barren and hostile. The piece is almost 10 minutes long, but time is of no consequence in this brave and different fantasy world.
Formulata Oblivonos (A Complicated Tale)
As you have understood by now, Hemispherica Portalis is an album of constant changes. “Formulata Oblivonos” is, as implied by the title, a rather complicated tale with many levels and different tableaus. There is no way to tell where this narrative will end, even though there are fragments of a rhythm. The atmosphere is quite harsh but never unfriendly. Every time I listen to it, I discover new sounds and details – like a picture by Salvador Dali.
If this album has a core, “Ecumenicus Orato (The Umbilical Center)” is the portal that takes us there. The flute sounds larger-than-life. It is a breakthrough beautiful piece with a hint of melancholy. I very much enjoy the 13 minutes long ambient melody, especially how it portrays a battle between light and darkness. I’m happy to report that it ends on a high note.
Saltis Nominus (Floating Seabeds)
The next portal leads to a fascinating underwater world. “Saltis Nominus (Floating Seabeds)” offers majestic views and a truly spectacular sound design. It is as if we go deeper and deeper, and after almost 12 minutes, we are at the bottom. It is quite lonely down there, but peaceful too.
“Terminus Equitos (Redemption Seeker)” is something quite different. This soundscape seems hypermodern, filled with robots and technology – and, in the middle of it all, the fearsome redemption seeker, a Blade Runner meets RoboCop kind of story. It is a delightful contrast to the previous portal, ensuring that the album is everything but boring.
“Amphibinatium (Myths and Legends)” is the colorful album closer. The almost drowned harp gives the impression that two stories are being told simultaneously – but even here, the soundscape seems coherent and clear, all thanks to the splendid sound design.
In conclusion: “Hemispherica Portalis (Portal of 1000 Years)” is not exactly easy listening. It demands something from you. As with any portal, you have to make an effort and cross over to the other side. Once there you are ready to receive the musical beauty Desensitized has to offer. Deborah Martin and Dean De Benedictis have delivered a bold and revolutionary album, perfect for creative work or sci-fi reading. I’m especially impressed by the polychromatic melodies. It is easy to envision that they represent “genuine” alien music from cultures lightyears away. I must also mention the rich textures that give the album almost limitless replay value. Bravo!
Having spent almost a month discovering the vastness of “Hemispherica Portalis”, I’m eager to find out where the next 1000 years portals will go. Guided by Desensitized, one thing seems certain; the journey will be extraordinary.
For more information and music samples, visit spottedpeccary.com