As someone who cannot sing, play an instrument of any kind, nor read or compose music, I never fail to be impressed by people who can do those things, especially when they do them well. Even more impressive is when people create music that’s completely original and innovative, leaving me wondering how their minds ever came up with those sounds and melodies in the first place.
Such is the music of Manipulant, an imaginative and, dare I say brilliant, multi-instrumentalist/composer based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Born David Speakman, Manipulant creates “scientific sound spaces” – as so perfectly described on a few of the tracks on his superb second album Eclectro, which dropped in June. Following up on his 2016 debut album Méthode de Narration, Manipulant once again utilizes hypnotic rhythms, dark synths and unconventional instrumentation on Eclectro to tell his stories. And this time around, he’s joined by British chilled trip-hop artist Stoneygate and Italian Astrophysicist Dr. Fiorella Terenzi, who provide unusual and mesmerizing backing vocals for some of the songs.
The mysterious-sounding “Run” kicks things off with strummed electric guitar and spacey synths, then a powerful throbbing bass line and strong drum beat take over, accompanied by bursts of crashing cymbals and a retro 60’s surf guitar riff – the kind Dick Dale or The Ventures played back in the day. In her sultry, almost whispry vocals, Stoneygate sings the bleak lyrics: “World is changing. Ominous sky. The rats are hiding. The birds are silent. Seems we’ve lost our way. Sides are bickering. / Jump back, turnaround, run.”
As Manipulant explained in an excellent interview with the blog Keepsmealive, he wanted the song to be “Something dark and driving. It needed to try to capture the mood I was seeing around me in the aftermath of the U.S. elections and some of the chaos that was happening elsewhere in the world.” I think he succeeded quite well; take a listen:
“Methodical” has the kind of thumping dance beat that immediately goes for the hips, and I love it! The far-off echoed vocals, many of which are not understandable, lend an otherworldly vibe to this infectious track. Things turn ominous again with “Doctor, I Need Your Expertise,” in which the beautiful Dr. Terenzi – ‘Goddess of Acoustic Astronomy’ – speaks in her own tribute song. Opening with a menacing buzzsaw sound, Manipulant asks “Dr. Terenzi, where are you?” Her echoed, sci-fi sounding vocals add to the track’s eerie vibe as she says “You are listening to real sounds, scientific sound spaces,” while a pounding beat continues throughout the track.
Regarding the Kraftwerk-inspired EDM track “Marshmallow Fabrik,” Manipulant explained to Keepsmealive “I think many of us carry on as if we are living in a marshmallow factory. Everything is in order and it’s all fluffy and delicious. We don’t focus on things outside of our own space. We continue on with blinders as long as our personal factories keep producing things that make us happy.” Here, echoed voices spoken in German are accompanied by unusual synths that almost sound like a huge snorting alien animal.
“Faulty Tap” is a 30-second instrumental interlude that begins with a loud drip, followed by pounding industrial-sounding synths to create a mood that Manipulant explained “was an extension of the frustration of “Run” put into something as simple and maddening as a leaky faucet.” The organ takes a starring role on “jusq’à la mort nous sépare (The Organist).” It’s a reworking of “The Organist” from his first album, and the French title translated is “until death separates us.” The track is uptempo, with playful synths and a rapid but delicate drum beat that belies the rather somber lyrics, spoken in his echoed vocals: “Oh I’m worried, I have a bad feeling about this. You must understand, as a fellow organist, when I’m thwarted I become agitated. You’re not in control here. I’m in control here.”
Next up is the one-minute long dirge-like interlude “Requiem for the 11th Earl of Sandwich,” which Manipulant explained represents the death of civility – Earl being ‘nobility’ which symbolized ‘civility.’ The mood abruptly shifts on the hauntingly beautiful instrumental “N / A / B / C / F“, which is a reworking of another track “Not All Birds Can Fly,” from his first album. (By now it’s clear that he loves strange and unusual song titles, but I digress…) The key instrument on this track is the sublime piano, accentuated by soaring synths.
Powerful throbbing bass and modulated buzzing synths make a return appearance on “The Doctor Meets 808.” And once again, Dr. Terenzi’s echoed vocals add to the eerie vibe, as she repeats the line “So you are listening to real sounds, scientific sound spaces,” as well as other lyrics. The track is essentially a reworking of “Doctor, I Need Your Expertise,” only with much heavier extended bass, as suggested by the ‘808’ in the song title.
Dr. Fiorella Terenzi
Eclectro is one of the most unusual and sonically amazing albums I’ve heard in a long while. At times disturbing, and other times gorgeous, it’s a brilliant, meticulously crafted album that Manipulant should be proud of. Another thing he – and we fans – are proud of is his winning a third place WIGWAM Online Radio Award for Best Indie/Alternative Act of 2017.
To learn more about Manipulant, check out his Website