M.C. Escher’s twenty-two-foot-long woodcut print Metamorphosis III begins where it ends. On a gray plane, the Dutch word “metamorphose” multiplies and locks into a grid, which shades into a black and white checkerboard. The squares on the checkerboard tilt into diamonds, which blossom into flowers before returning to checkerboard again. This time, the squares scurry into salamanders, and then into the hexagons of a beehive, from which bees launch forth. The negative space outside the bees becomes fish; the negative space outside the fish becomes birds. And the birds are transformed into sailboats, which soon become fish again. And on and on it goes. Birds become blocks, which form a city, whose structures become chess pieces. The checkerboard beneath them shade into a grid, made up of the Dutch word “metamorphose,” which soon stands alone on a gray plane. In the Paleis Museum in The Hague, Metamorphosis III is mounted in a huge cylindrical frame. Visitors reportedly circle the print three or four times, unaware or unconcerned that the cycle of transformations has already begun anew.
Eelco Topper was thinking of his fellow Dutchman’s carousel print when he composed the extraordinary cycli infini. Topper, who performs under the name Felbm (a mangled cellphone autocorrect of Topper’s Christian name, apparently), has quietly created one of the most stunning pieces of music released in 2023. As the title indicates, the single nearly forty-minute track on cycli infini is a work of little loops and patterns. Beginning in wind chimes and field recordings, a whistle of drone recurs and slowly mutates. But cycli infini eschews abstraction. On the contrary, the tape loops and pedal delays are immediately overlayed by warm, spritely human instrumentation: a repeating figure on acoustic guitar, electric piano vamps, flutters of saxophone and bass trumpet, the punctuation of vibraphone and the breath of flutes. The effect is Reich-ian, a music of endlessly evolving structures. As in Escher, shapes become animals, which become insects, which become cities, which become objects, which become shapes. The sides of the vinyl record spin out into a locked groove. True to its name, cycli infini could go on forever.
This is one of the most unashamedly beautiful records out now; it is, at times, so gorgeous that it breaks your heart. cycli infini spirals in and out of genres—minimalism, gagaku, new age, ambient, jazz, fourth world—all while remaining completely intact. One pattern flows effortlessly out of the last and into whatever comes next. The adventure of the album is listening as forms decompose and are reconstituted. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that the album invites you to be attentive to its changes and indifferent to them at the same time. One configuration diverts—entrances, even—for a moment, but it is soon gone. The music is now something else, captivating for entirely different reasons. By his own lights, Topper was thinking of the natural order when he composed this astonishing work. The forms alter, but the great world persists. | b sirota