Floating through nebulae and flying through space are typically associated with a sense of excitement and discovery, perhaps a sense of wonderment concerning what kind of life may lie beyond our own limited scope. ‘The Signal’, an album written by demoscene and horror movie score-writing veteran Wojciech Golczewski of Poland, provides a stark contrast to the optimistic ventures of aspiring astronauts. It paints a picture that evokes enigmatic and frightful visions of the cold and desolate void that is our universe, interspersed with brief, touching moments of optimism. Before we head off on our excursion, do note that this is an atmospheric, ambient album; this is best listened to in one sitting, preferably in the dark, in order to better experience this artist’s vision. Now, come. The signal beckons us.
We’ll begin by examining ‘Orbiting’, the introductory track to our voyage. Conceptually, ‘The Signal’ is a story about a single crew member of a space station going about her daily routine until a magnetic storm strikes. The storm transmits a signal, which she proceeds to follow into the depths of the unknown. The song conjures images of rising suns, days beginning, and a sense of security. Trumpet and string-like voices swell and fade as the dawn of a new day rises. More than halfway through the track, a deep bassline enters, allowing the other instruments to change octave and intonation. Quiet yet resonant blips denote the end of this track, and the ending chord helps strike curiosity into the hearts of Wojciech’s listeners. ‘Orbiting’ establishes his compositional style early on; a notable aspect of this song, and most others on ‘The Signal’, is a distinct lack of percussive elements, instead utilizing chordal changes and the entering and exiting of melodic or rhythmic voices alone to signify measure transitions.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the eerie, foreboding, and almost abrasive texture of the album’s title track. Faint hums and chimes overlap a quiet, steady gust of wind as the track opens. As these voices slightly crescendo, the squall is gradually silenced to permit the entrance of a low-pitched synth. This, too, crescendos, and the hums and chimes are replaced with a loud, unwavering and metallic hum. The bassline is emphasized with a voice two octaves higher in order to increase the overall intensity of the song, and as soon as ‘The Signal’ peaks in intensity, it is lost, only to be replaced with a fading gust of air. ‘The Signal’ is masterfully crafted and extremely potent at capturing feelings of inquiry. What is this signal? Where is it coming from? Who sent it? These are only a few of the questions we may imagine crossing the mind of our protagonist, and as we continue on, we may each come to our own interpretation of ‘The Signal’.
Next in our auditory journey, we’ll look at ‘Spectre’. This track, initially seems to be as ambient as many of the other songs on ‘The Signal’, but as instruments layer over each other and the song slowly crescendoes, an almost percussive sound – a stab, if you will – can be heard faintly in the background. At precisely the halfway point, Wojciech utilizes a low-pitched kick and a simple snare in order to emphasize the climatic midpoint of ‘Spectre’. During the track’s final moments, a new synthetic voice layers over all the other previously established sounds, and a simple alternation between two focal notes combined with the main chordwork rounds out a polished, atmospheric departure from what we already know of ‘The Signal’.
The final frontier we’ll be traversing today is the penultimate song, ‘Superunknown’. It’s difficult to tell whether or not the human-like, scratchy vocalization is achieved through modification of a human voice or sheer synthetic prowess, but it’s simply spine-chilling to hear this for the first time. High-pitched, indiscernible tones in the aural background of the song are an incredible atmospheric touch; one can imagine hurtling through space quickly, or perhaps this is the sound of stardust…there’s no way to know for sure, but this kind of mysterious phrasing sets Wojciech apart from many of his contemporaries. The track pauses entirely at 2:19 before the trek continues, and a memorable melodic phrase is combined with a square bassline before de-crescendoing into nothingness.
This extraterrestrial excursion is available on the Data Airlines netlabel for $10 USD. Golczewski’s skill at crafting intricate tales through instrumentation alone is unparalleled, and I must say that this is certainly one of the most pleasantly unique albums I’ve had the honor of reviewing for the ChipWIN Blog. Truly, ‘The Signal’ is an enigmatic, enlightening voyage that’s sure to delight synthwave fans and chiptune lovers alike. If you’ve enjoyed this album, be sure to take a look at some of the other albums by Wojciech Golczewski and on the Data Airlines label. Should you wish to hear the thrilling conclusion to this saga, I especially recommend ‘Reality Check’.