Cartographer Composed by E.S. Posthumus
Wigshop Records (2007)
“One might expect
them to have pushed the envelope with an even more aggressive
stance, but, in fact, the opposite is true. CARTOGRAPHER is a
much more introspective effort, although hardly less sublime. ”
The Last Voyage of the Niva
Review by Christopher Coleman
Some 6000 years ago from a small island, Numa, which once sat off the
southeast coast of the Dark Continent, a small sea-vessel set sail on
its sixth and final venture to complete the Numadian mapping voyages.
Instituted by the Island's king, Oraan II, the great sailing vessel, the
Niva, her crew, and their captain, Sollentus, were commissioned to sail as
much of the known seas that they could within 5 years - detailing all they
discovered. Returning, after just 3 years at sea, full of new foods,
animals, art, music and knowledge, the Niva and her crew found their
island-home swallowed by the sea with only the top of Mount Isonova left
above water. Atop the holy mountain, stood The Great Tree of Numa.
The men of the Niva cut down the tree and took it with them as they sailed
on to find a new home. Everyman, still heartbroken, was ordered by
captain Sollentus, to write their life-story and knowledge of history on
sheets made from the bark of the Great Tree while they sailed all the seas
they had just returned from. Most wrote stories of their lost wives and
children. Others wrote great poems, others songs, but one committed
his memory to all that they had seen in their voyages to maps. There
was no record of the Niva's final voyage, her crew, or their
writings...until seven years ago. The Numadian vessel was unearthed
at Islas Malvinas and to this day new discoveries are made at the dig site
illuminating our knowledge of their culture and history.
I wish I could say that was the story behind E.S.
POSTHUMUS' latest release, CARTOGRAPHER, but it is mostly a figment of my
imagination. Except for the Numa references and the other proper names employed, it's
all a bit of story from my head. I have little doubt that this
firing of imagination, albeit brief, was not so far from the intent of the
duo - to get us to wonder what both the lyrics and music is saying to us.
It is almost the antithesis of traditional scoring, where the beats of the
story are already set in stone and the music must follow the established
lead, but for CARTOGRAPHER, instead of writing music to underscore a movie or game,
the duo came up with elements of story and a language to support their music.
In 2001, this enigmatic duo, Helmut and Franz
Vonlichten with their first release, UNEARTHED burst onto the film music
scene...via the burgeoning industry of thematic production music. Their
music was heard in an ever-growing parade of major movie trailers
including: Spider-Man, Planet of the Apes, Minority Report, Curse of the
Golden Flower, and The Other Boleyn Girl. It wouldn't be until late
2007, that the young, composing siblings, would release their next full
CD...actually a 2-disc release. It might be expected that their second
release would be "more of the same" - the same great stuff that so many
couldn't get enough of back in 2001. And who could blame them if they had
done just that? On the other hand, Unearthed has since set-off a wave of
would-be's and sound-a-likes, which could have made this new release a little
redundant if the duo merely tramped back across the tundra they had
themselves pioneered. So then just what does E.S. Posthumus do as a follow-up
to their groundbreaking 2001 effort?
They build. Instead of simply producing "more
of the same" the group takes their well-established sound of full-force
orchestra, rock-band elements, and synths, and adds a new layer: lead
The biggest and most immediate difference heard in CARTOGRAPHER is the
introduction of vocalist LUNA SANS. One might expect them to have pushed
the envelope with an even more aggressive stance, but, in fact, the
opposite is true. CARTOGRAPHER is a much more introspective effort,
although hardly less sublime. The first disc, containing all
original pieces and are somewhat difficult to classify. It might be
best to say that their expected symphonic elements have been infused with
a pop-smooth-jazz-flavor, in addition to the intoxicating vocals of LUNA
SANS. The second disc is primarily comprised of "remixes" of tracks from
disc 1 and, because they are sans-San's vocals, are somewhat closer
to that "cinematic" style that fans have come to expect from them, yet
decidedly mellower than their previous effort.
Disc 1 demonstrates a romantic side of E.S.
Posthumus. Exemplified in the opening track "Nolitus" - we hear the
very smooth vocals of LUNA SANS with elegant string-work, piano,
woodwinds, and a chill-outesque rhythm. The lyrics on "Nolitus," as well
as the other vocal pieces, are all written in a language devised by the
composers themselves. In fact, the two, motivated out of their own passion
for archeology, invented more than just a language but an fictional
island, Numa, and a culture to give their language, Numadian, some
substance. Their hope was for their listeners to experience an even
greater sense of wonder and mystery while listening to each piece.
Clearly, in my case, that's exactly what happened.
Even beyond Luna Sans captivating vocalizations, E.S.
Posthumus' flair for the exotic pours through. Whether it is the sound of
mandolins in "Isonova" (2), or the feel of a whirling dervish of "Mosane"
(6) or the steel-guitar in "Nasivern" (13) a truly worldly, or even
otherworldly, feel is exuded. What will surprise some is just how subdued
disc 1 is if compared to Unearthed. In fact, with the exception of "Sollente"
*8) and "Orannu" (11), [which is is the most upbeat/hopeful piece of the
entire release], the second half of disc 1 is dominated by full fledged ballads.
Among these are a few that contain truly memorable melodies: "Caarano"
(9), "Raptamei" (10) and "Nivaos" (12).
Disc 2 of CARTOGRAPHER provides remixes of thirteen tracks contained on
the first disc and are likely more akin to what most were expecting from
E.S. Posthumus to begin with. There are two original pieces as well.
"Ashielf Pi" starts the disc off with an ultra-aggressive edge that is
strongly reminiscent of "Rise to Glory" - the title theme from the NFL ON
CBS. That edge is short-lived at only 1:30 minutes and then with the
less aggressive "Oraanu Pi" (15) immediately following. What
tends to be the largest difference in these remixes, aside from the
absence of Luna Sans' vocals, are more dramatic introductions to most of
the tracks. Concluding this double disc release is "Odenall Pi" (28),
which, like "Ashielf Pi" is not a remix of any of the disc 1 tracks. It
ends this experience on a distinctly positive and upbeat note where all of
the key instruments from the entire release are afforded moments to shine:
from guitar and penny-whistle leads, to acoustic drum spotlights, to full
orchestral blasts. Oddly enough, just how much you enjoy disc 2
depends on how often you listen to disc 1. Having become accustomed
to LUNA SANS' vocals featured so heavily on the first disc 2, no matter
the variations in arrangement or mix, the "instrumental" versions can feel
as though something is missing. No doubt, if you spend the majority
of time on disc 2, you'll avert this inconvenient occurrence.
In the end,
CARTOGRAPHER ends up being quite a different experience than UNEARTHED.
Back in 2001, UNEARTHED was novel and was a new sort of listening
experience...the kind many film and game score fans love to sink their
ears into. And E.S. POSTHUMUS established a very clear voice for
themselves - a sound that managed to not remind us of anyone else, which
is not an
easy feat. Now for CARTOGRAPHER, the group has dared to set sail from the
well-worn trails - trails they blazed themselves. Fair warning: this release
may be surprising, if not disappointing, to
some who are merely looking for a variation of Unearthed. Helmut and Franz
Vonlichten, have simmered things down and managed to reinvent themselves
to some degree here. The
collaboration of this new trio provide a sound that could find a home on your
local smooth-jazz station as easily as your favorite
internet-soundtrack-station. I have to admit that I found myself a little
disappointed with CARTOGRAPHER at first, but after a few successive
listens I found myself a little bit in love with nearly every track of the
first disc and the listening experience to be ultimately more satisfying,
and even more inspiring, than their previous work. I recommend
giving this release a chance to set your own imagination on a new voyage.