I must have missed mentions of this record in the habitual channels, otherwise the relative hush around it would appear pretty strange. It was released in 2009 by a young Scottish artist who’s also been a reviewing colleague for a short while, writing on Bagatellen just months prior of that website’s demise. Panoptic, in Paul Baran’s intention, is “an attempt to soundtrack the lives of creative people affected by such concepts as underclass, surveillance and the dangers of mass consensus”. To achieve this aim, he surrounded himself with a literal who’s who of collaborators including Keith Rowe, Werner Dafeldecker and Rhodri Davies, to quote the most renowned. The mastermind employed organs, pianos, prepared guitars, percussion, various devices and field recordings.
As in every concept album, the evaluation of separate factors is impractical, however there are mechanisms that work better than others. Luckily, the former constitute the record’s majority, pushing the few weaknesses away. When Baran focuses his interest on the creation of an aural environment through the layering of different static components, resonant auras and microscopic instrumental meddling in the background – as it happens in fascinating pieces like “Brauzenkeit” (which in fact is featured in two versions, one of them remixed by Ekkehard Ehlers), or in the melancholic estrangement of “Love Under Surveillance” and “Pomerol” – the music becomes engrossingly puzzling, the listener entering a door after another in search of solutions that can only be imagined. The sonic rendering of a quiet thoughtfulness surrounding sombre moods is often very efficient; shifting planes, scarcely memorisable melodic movements and semi-disclosed found sounds are dosed with class and sense of balance. “PIN-Snipers” is a further enthralling combination of slow gestures and effective placement of the timbres, an unspoken ceremony of sorts.
The lone moments of perplexity come from a couple of alienated vocal incidents and in the inconclusively boisterous “To Protest In Their Silence”. The usefulness of these chapters in the album’s general impact is less evident despite their obvious necessity in the great scheme of things. But these are the secondary notes of an overly stern analyzer. At the end of the day, this is a release which seems to promise more than what the ears manage to actually retrieve from its obscure spires. Obtaining additional satisfaction will depend on the listener’s motivation; there’s no finding a middle ground here.