Erdem HELVACIOĞLU (b.1975)/Ulrich MERTIN (b.1977)
Planet X [9:14]
The Hunted [4:57]
Gradual Annihilation of the Mind [10:27]
Point of No Return [5:44]
Elevation [1:28]
A Particle in the Vastness of Space [5:09]
Final Transformation [1:29]
Anima Aeterna [5:52]
Erdem Helvacıoğlu (TogaMan GuitarViol, electric guitar, drum programming, electronics); Ulrich Mertin (viola, 5-string electric violin, vocals)
rec. Berlin. No date given. DDD
INNOVA 798 [44:22] 

'Planet X' is the post-modern equivalent of nineteenth century programme music, or the contemporary avant-garde's answer to the concept album once beloved of rock bands. The story begins on the back cover: "Without warning, a new object - Planet X - appeared in the heavens: a mysterious entity intruding upon a vast ancient system. Hailed as a paradise by some, an expeditionary force discovers instead that it represents a menace to human existence. Hunted by a superior alien intelligence an explorer is trapped and used as a test for the ultimate assimilation and extermination of humanity. This is the tale of his doomed fight, grasping for the last snatches of his soul."
This collaborative project between Turkish guitarist Erdem Helvacıoğlu and German violist Ulrich Mertin is, according to Innova, "grounded [...] in strings but also employ[s] unorthodox recording techniques, sophisticated processing algorithms, and multi-tracking to achieve a rich, complex, resonant texture. Throughout, the sound is unmistakably forward-looking, evocative of the project's science fiction themes and redolent of the eerie, sometimes dark feel of sci-fi films like 'Alien', 'Moon' and '2001'."
Mertin and Helvacıoğlu not only wrote the music together, they performed, recorded and produced it. Certainly, they cannot be faulted in any respect except composition, and there much will depend on the listener's opinion of experimental electronica. Not that it is all that experimental, however. Helvacıoglu's biography describes him, perhaps inevitably, as "one of the most renowned contemporary composers of his generation in Turkey. His music has been called 'revolutionary', 'groundbreaking', 'luscious and unique'". Yet there is not much of any of that in evidence on 'Planet X'. In fact, it is Mertin's biography that is more indicative: his "musical activities cover a wide swath, from classical and contemporary to electronic and club music".
The opening title track sounds rather like a slice of American arthouse film soundtrack, the gentle electric guitar riffs adding an audience-friendly rock flavour; a 'vibe' - as the composers would put it - that returns briefly in A Particle in the Vastness of Space. Unfortunately, The Hunted reproduces the synthesised repetitive banalities of mainstream Hollywood, and some of these tracks, far from recreating an alien world, more often than not remind the listener of Hans Zimmer or Danny Elfman. On the other hand, The Hunted is really the only track that has nothing interesting to say, and elsewhere, as in Point of No Return and Anima Aeterna, gentle washes of sound do seem to lap the shores of some cosmic ocean. The highpoint is probablyGradual Annihilation of the Mind which, its pretentious title notwithstanding, does at least offer a glimpse of Helvacıoglu's promised radical imagination with a detailed and evocative exploration of sonics that is ominous if not extra-terrestrial or annihilative.
In total, there is at worst nothing offensively random or - The Hunted aside - blandly pop-art about these pieces. There is moreover a sombre melodic thread of sorts that binds them into a reasonably coherent whole. On the whole, not an essential buy for anyone, and not great value in terms of minutes to the dollar - but for those interested in American-flavoured electronica, 'Planet X' is an interesting if stark destination. Sound quality is immaculate, a given for Innova recordings.
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For those interested in American-flavoured electronica this is an interesting if stark destination. 

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