Switched On – Blanck Mass: The Rig (Original Series Soundtrack) (Invada)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This is the first TV soundtrack by Benjamin Power, aka Blanck Mass – a surprising state of affairs, given Power’s prolific output as a composer. It would seem he has been biding his time, for as part of the duo Fuck Buttons he released three albums, as well as providing a good deal of music for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London 2012.

Since then he has turned to solo work as Blanck Mass, building a reputation for electronic music of unusual and uncompromising power, with a further five albums under his belt. The Rig is heading up Amazon Prime’s selection of January viewing, a six-part season with a stellar cast directed by Line of Duty stalwart John Strickland. In it, the crew of a North Sea oil rig encounter unseen forces that cut them off from the mainland, with far reaching consequences for their environment and the crew on board.

What’s the music like?

As with all the best soundtracks, Power’s response is one that vividly captures the environment. The weighty main theme is ideally pitched, punching through with concrete-heavy beats that capture the industry, the majestic yet brutal outlines of the right.

The early numbers draw the listener in, setting the scene as the main characters are revealed and established, and conveying the mysterious circumstances the crew find themselves in. Inevitably some of these sketches are short, and work best in the context of the full album, but the disorientation of both personnel and environment proves unnerving for the listener too.

At the same time the ongoing industrial processes are reflected in the clattering percussion (Flesh Meets Floor), the dripping pipes, the echoing chambers and the misty outlines of the vast structure. The unseen menace of the sea is there, too. Sometimes we fall back to companionship, often laced with uncertainty (Ghost), while key scenes such as Helideck build momentum. Power responds to the scenes in kind, moving between the claustrophobic corridors and dimly lit offices of the rig to the vast open reaches of the North Sea.

There are some striking moments. No Fore Without Flare captures the drama of that particular sequence, while We’ll Bring Him In is loaded with emotion. Charlie sends out wails of anguish, realised fully in the extended portrayal of The Wave. This is where the bottom drops out of the music, Power using subtle but striking pitch variations to maximise the discomfort. The story ends in relative comfort but the lasting dread remains.

Does it all work?

Yes. Inevitably there are descriptive elements to the score that are short and undeveloped, but when listened to as a whole the music for The Rig contains a great deal of substance. Power paints a vivid picture of the surroundings without ever resorting to cliché, and there are moments of keen emotion as the characters take over.

Is it recommended?

Wholeheartedly. His previous albums as Blanck Mass suggested Benjamin Power would take to the small screen like a duck to water – and The Rig is proof positive that he has.

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Switched On: Blanck Mass – In Ferneaux (Sacred Bones)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

There are just two tracks on In Ferneaux, the new release from Benjamin Power – the man behind Blanck Mass. They are long-form pieces of roughly equal length, drawing on Power’s substantial archive of field recordings from the last decade of travelling. It is in effect his way of continuing to travel in spite of lockdown conditions, with compositions brought about by extended time at home.

What’s the music like?

The output of Blanck Mass has never been short of substance or emotion, and Power confronts his feelings with typically direct musical honesty. In Ferneaux gives the impression of being a piece of work a long time in the making, needing extended time at home to realise its ambition.

The two tracks last just over 40 minutes and work in a single sequence on headphones or with surround sound. Their emotional impact and musical identity are strong, right from the start of Phase I, with its shimmering electronics. It is a powerful depiction (for me at any rate) of the bright, sunny days we experienced at the start of lockdown in the UK this time last year, and the burst of positive energy unleashes a flurry of rhythms. As these depart stage left the scene darkens, and an ominous drone takes over. From this a new regenerative process begins, and the musical camera pans out with big chord shifts – which in turn fade.

Power’s talent for moving between scenes comes from his experience with soundtrack work. Phase II, however, is an immediate jolt to the senses, beginning with a wall of uncompromising, metallic noise. This single blast introduces the most human of the field recordings so far, a personal conversation, on which Power reflects with slowly moving, cool sounds. The metallic blast returns, but just when it all feels too much consolation arrives in the form of big, woolly chords that the listener can dive into.

This is a prelude to the most confrontational music so far, a set of pounding rhythms and primal white noise, a party in a dungeon. Again the response is huge chords but the closing is pure and moving, a piano solo that loops round majestically. Ultimately the music fades away on the wind

Does it all work?

Yes – this is a compelling pair of sonic journeys, a travelogue of Power’s last decade on the road. The only regret is not knowing where some of the scenes were captured – but in turn that fuels the imagination when listening.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. In Ferneaux is a strong indication that Blanck Mass can work with bigger structures, reinforcing Power’s capabilities as a soundtrack composer but also emphasising the potential he has to go on to score longer, more classically-based works. His development promises to be fascinating.

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