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shIfTing ships in foreIGn ports bY ÖbEr tRaPTT

reviewed by Dan Ledley

It begins in the mud. Suffocating silt sucking the air out of your head through your ears. Foliage quivers and the ships shift, grinding their hulls against the dock as they heave at their moorings. Giant rusted bellies moan and reverberate as if bowed by the great rubber buffers at their side. It's only possible to get this close in foreign ports where the vessels are colossal, and the rules relaxed. Between hull and dock is a death trap, you end up in there boy, you end up dead. Drawn down into the crude slicked blue where even the fish look lost, the mass of steel will crush you to pulp if you're not drowned first. For these are some serious forces at play, the tide is time and the ship, no matter what the size, is folly. For the harbour is safety, is home, and in that slither of pressurised poisoned brine you may see your destiny.

- O.T.

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The hum of engines bellied behind walls of sheet metal, the straining of ropes against the grind of hull to dock, and the paired panic of overwhelming depths and looming heights.

‘Shifting Ships in Foreign Ports’ is soft spoken, but it’s not delivering pleasantries. Instead, Öber Traptt descends slowly and surely into walls of throbbing drones and guttural motors.


‘It begins in the mud.’ Traptt states, ‘Suffocating silt sucking the air out of your head through your ears.’ 

Anyone else that grew up in a run-down port town during the 00’s will know that fear. With nothing else to do in summer but pier jump at high tide and swim out to whatever island of oiled shit and various metal-flecked waste the low tide ushered in. 

‘Shifting Ships…’ soundtracks the anxiety of getting caught on the wrong side of a small Reefer or sinking just shy of your waist with nothing to grab onto. 


The bellow of a drone oscillating in on itself. Deeply textured, tastefully clipped and nudging you into a variety of uncertain and uneasy environments over its 38-minute runtime.

Resonance gives way to subtler hums, a pad underneath the sound of something, or someone, shuffling. The listener desperately tries to find a pattern in the scuttle before layers of static, rushing water and sharp clicks cascade into backfiring engines, clanking freight, and mechanised keelhaul.


Was that a chair creaking or has a rivet finally given in? The diligent ebb and flow of a tide or the rhythmic pressure of bilge against bone? Is that the sound of something bowed that doesn’t want to be, or metal bending when it shouldn’t? 


A scrimshaw melody cuts into the track, slow and precise. It feels like another bowed string, but it harks like a battered accordion. A lament for the piece’s final moments and falling into increasingly softer focus as every over layer follows suit and clatters away.


‘Shifting Ships in Foreign Ports’ is purposeful and dedicated to its source idea and theme. Swapping out the immediacy and urgency of the claustrophobic, often present in drone and industrial, in favour of the patient dread of thalassophobia. Ever moving, ever present, and ever heavy.


Suitably impressed by Öber Traptt’s last offering, ‘Office Work’, a cohesive but more diverse tracklist of field recordings and tonal experiments, I hope ‘Shifting Ships…’ sees the artist commit to more long-long form pieces, exercising their first-rate control of atmosphere and momentum.


I’m keen to see a version of this work live, preferably with my back against the biggest Sub the venue can muster.

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