Since about 2016, I have found myself captivated by Dutch ambient producer Albert Borkent’s work as Lingua Lustra. I’ve listened to half-a-dozen of his albums, and even from just that relatively small slice of his prolific ambient career—totaling about 25 albums in the past decade—I have acquired some understanding of his range of experimentation. Most of his work is grounded in the sonic palette of ambient techno: a sparse and simple beat often backs acidic, filtered synth tones. On some albums he leans further into lofty, high-reverb drones, eschewing rhythm entirely to create a complex bliss—I say complex because of his interesting use of contrasting reverb spaces over different drone clusters. But on other albums he digs deeper into his sample packs (or field recordings, or live performances—it’s hard to tell) to invoke a more arcane religiosity. I’ve chosen to write about his newest full-length, Emotive Motifs, in part because of how it blends all of these sounds—the techno instrumentation, the soft drones, and the dark ambient samples—into one coherent album that really captures what makes Lingua Lustra such a compelling artist to me. By combining these almost spiritual soundscapes with techno and drone production and instrumentation, Lingua Lustra has consistently depicted what sounds to me like a future religion—and Emotive Motifs can be best described as the consummation of that sonic line of reasoning.
If we listen to just the first three tracks, we can see the qualities I have introduced above discretely separated. Opener “Soft Elegance” centers around an eerie piano loop (is it a sample or a performed recording?). Its 13/4 time signature sets the listener off balance throughout the track, in spite of the entry of several layers of buzzing synth tones. This is Lingua Lustra at his most occult, at first evoking the sublime (pure piano tones), and then undercutting its purity with the arcane (odd meter, devious synths, and the like).
“State of Mind” takes this idea to even darker places. We can hear chanting on loop underneath an unsettling drone texture. And then a sparse piano enters (undoubtedly performed, right?). This must be some kind of dark communion, the ritual underway. Even stranger synths enter, pushing the track further into madness and the paranormal.
And yet “A Friend That’s Always There” brings us back to the realm of more traditional ambient techno composition and engineering. A spiraling plucked instrument moves the melody about; a white-noise machine moves between our ears; a counterpoint compliments the melody. These parts subside, leaving only space, and then reenter to complete the circle. This song is certain mesmeric, but never threatening.
This is the first of a few songs to include a plucked-sounding melody with tenuous rhythmic accompaniment. The others (“Among the Roses,” “Underneath”) should be counting among the albums finest and most immediately pleasing tracks. Most of the album contents itself with producing excellent drone complimented by reverbed-out piano (“Theme Of A Cloudy Day,” “Sky,” “Waiting”). Other tracks’ preference for ‘90s techno synth sounds make me yearn to play Metroid Prime again (“Romboid,” “I Want To Know”).
Certainly this album proves Borkent’s deft ability to move between different modes of ambient music while maintaining an identifiable style and sound. His songs always use different synths, but they always sound like Lingua Lustra synths. This is, to me, a true achievement for anyone working within the difficult ambient and ambient-related genres. Moreover the consistent emphasis on and exploration of the spiritual and technology’s capability with respect to emoting the spiritual makes this album thematically unique and frankly brilliant.
By Isak McCune