Debit: The Long Count review – Mayans, machine learning and music | Music

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There is an uncanniness in listening to a musical instrument you have never heard being played for the first time. As your brain makes sense of a new sound, it tries to frame it within the realm of familiarity, producing a tussle between the known and unknown.

The second album from Mexican-American producer Delia Beatriz, AKA Debit, embraces this dissonance. Taking the flutes of the ancient Mayan courts as her raw material and inspiration, Beatriz used archival recordings from the Mayan Studies Institute at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México to create a digital library of their sounds. She then processed these ancient samples through a machine-learning program to create woozy, ambient soundscapes.

Since no written music has survived from the Mayan civilisation, Beatriz crafts a new language for these ancient wind instruments, straddling the electronic world of her 2017 debut Animus and the dilatory experimentalism of ambient music. The resulting 10 tracks make for a deliciously strange listening experience.

The Long Count by Debit album artwork
The Long Count by Debit album artwork

Opener 1st Day establishes the undulating tones that unify the record. They flutter like contemplative humming and veer from acoustic warmth to metallic note-bending. Each track is given a numbered day and time, as if documenting the passage of a ritual, and echoes resonate down the record: whistles appear like sirens during the moans of 1st Night and 3rd Night; snatches of birdsong are tucked between the reverb of 2nd Day and 5th Day.

The Long Count of the record’s title seems to express the linear passage of time itself, one replicated in the eternal, fluid flute tones. We hear in them the warmth of the human breath that first produced their sound, as well as Beatriz’s electronic filtering that extends their notes until they imperceptibly bleed into one another and fuzz like keys on a synth. It is a startlingly original and enveloping sound that leaves us with that ineffable feeling: the past unearthed and made new once more.

Also out this month

Korean composer Park Jiha releases her third album, The Gleam (tak:til), a solo work featuring uniquely sparse compositions of saenghwang mouth organ, piri oboe and yanggeum dulcimer. British-Ghanaian rapper KOG brings his debut LP, Zone 6, Agege (Heavenly Sweetness), a deeply propulsive mix of English, Pidgin and Ga lyrics set to Afrobeat fanfares. Cellist and composer Ana Carla Maza releases her latest album, Bahía (Persona Editorial), an affecting combination of Cuban son, bossa and chanson in homage to the music of her birthplace of Havana.



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