Strië – Perpetual Journey EP (Serein, 2018)

Perpetual Journey

Laika was the first animal to orbit the Earth, a stray dog plucked innocently from the streets of Moscow and put aboard a rushed, primitive capsule to be sent into the lonely isolation of space. She was an unwitting pioneer, a “tender and charming” test subject in the hands of scientists and engineers at the bleeding edge of 1950’s aeronautical technology, and she was always meant to die.

Provisioned with air and food for 7 days but with no ability to return, Laika didn’t even last 7 hours; thermal protection ripped loose after the rocket’s staging separated improperly, subjecting the canine cosmonaut to temperatures of 40°C. She died after four hot, claustrophobic, lonely orbits, and she remained there for 5 months before the spacecraft finally succumbed to atmospheric drag and burned up, scattering her ashes in a most awesome conflagration. A befitting and justified end.

This short EP is in memory of Laika and her sacrifice in the advancement of human scientific endeavour, 60 years after her voyage. Despite the sadness of her story and the questionable ethics of her treatment, Strie attempts to look beyond that somewhat, approaching things with a more objective bent.

Opening “Capsule” mirrors the hollow metallic confines of her craft, strained tones reverberating through the cramped space and thrumming drones hanging the menacing backdrop of the dark vacuum beyond the thin walls. It’s flat, unsympathetic almost, like a schematic or a blueprint with little thought for its occupant. “Test For Ability” has a similar sense of detachment, all scuzzy and flickering electronica as our heroic dog is subjected to pre-flight tests, and then the real deal. It rattles and vibrates with electro-mechanical fervour, airframes and skeletons alike stressed to their limits on their passage upwards.

Bundled in her tin can she drifts beyond visual range, her final resting place an unremarkable modified warhead; “Unseen Weight” reminds us of her presence up there in its sentimental outreach, soft vocal coos wafting hopes and dreams up from their Earthbound sources. It loops gently, turning slowly in microgravity: celestial ballet.

The final two pieces pitch towards the melancholic at last; penultimate “To Never Return Home” croons in violin strings and Ambient Techno pads, mournfully advancing as each orbital pass drops her floating coffin closer to destruction. There’s a sweetness here too though, one of unspoken pride and respect. This sentiment shifts effortlessly into closing title track “Perpetual Journey” as Laika’s vapourised remains return to their cosmic form. Molecules strip themselves apart to disperse into the atmosphere: she didn’t just return to the soil like all who came before her, she did something far more than that. She became part of the planet again, her orbital journey now conjoined with that of the whole Earth.

The slow elegance of the Dub Techno beats and crooning pitch-shifted vocals match the endless course of her home world round the Sun, filled with thick bass depths and twinkling ethereal diffusion. What we did to her wasn’t fair: she was guaranteed to die, probably unpleasantly, but her reward is a reunification and the, perhaps meagre, satisfaction that can be gleaned for helping to put the first step on the ladder in creating and continuing a bold human presence in the space beyond Earth.

We thank you Laika.