In 2035, overwhelmed by the complex interdependencies of an hyper-accelerated financial system, a mega-skewed distribution of wealth and an ultra-collapsing environment, we surrendered our power to Talos.
Talos is a deeply layered neural network able to recognise features in multidimensional systems (things like trends, interdependencies and trade-offs) that it aggregates into high-level patterns it can use to make decisions that are truly holistic, something that as a species we are pretty shit at. Talos would be our caretaker.
The challenge for us was to select the right objective function for Talos, the last significant decision we would ever have to make. The consequences of getting this wrong might be as bad as the fate waiting for us without an artificial intervention – what was referred to as an Ellison trap.
After much deliberation we failed to reach an agreement on this objective function. We are pretty shit at agreeing on anything important.
We therefore decided to leave the specification of this objective function, aka Talo’s volition, to Medea, another deeply layered neural network which we fed reams of data about everything that’s good about us, and everything that we aspire to become. The process of generation of this dataset was crowdsourced. Everyone contributed to it. No one was excluded.
Medea went to work on the library she was supplied, humming a mysterious and hopeful ditty that gave us confidence we had made the right choice, or meta-choice.
We struggle to comprehend the gleeful chip, chip, chipping away at the foundations of utopia — laid generations before with the firm belief that progress trends up. Wearing the gaudy cloak of populism, a reactionary jihad has descended on the land and Muad’dib is nowhere to be found. In the brittle rubble, the future has been birthed and it is gig-based and terrified.
Is it a wonder that we look for the hidden spaces between our worlds? Spaces within which to hide the desecrated dreams of our grandparents. The bounce of an AM signal between tall concrete buildings; the moment of packet loss within a high frequency trading network; the interference on the satellite link from Davos. We slip within these spaces as if in a dream.
These hidden spaces are dim and the fidelity is low but they are ours. Their lives are brief but they last long enough.
A house band plays a slow sad song. The weight of the outside world crushes their rhythms and distorts the synths. A small crowd sways and mingles in brief flashes of light, refugees gathered briefly to absorb a cosmic sorrow.
Transient Curse is taken from the (excellently titled) album I’m a Bastard, which comes out on Faux Discx and Italian Beach Babes on 18th September. You can get it two weeks early though by ordering from them right here or here. And you should, because it’s great.
Then, at 7-9 August at Braziers Park in Oxfordshire, the XXJFG and Blue Tapes squads will reunite to detonate some DJ decks for Supernormal 2015, which will feature all of the previous acts, plus the UK debut of Check!!!
To celebrate the event, Blue Tapes are reissuing its previous releases by Cherry and Leedian as a split cassette/download, and we have asked Leedian and Cherry to interview each other exclusively for XXJFG.
Cherry: Firstly, please introduce yourself including your music history.
Leedian: Leedian formed in 2012. I played a guitar when I was teenager then have started to compose with machine since I was 20. Please tell us about how was “check!!!” formed.
Cherry: I had a chance to perform as a solo at the club event which Tec organized. Then I found a kindred spirit in Tec so, we started to perform together and Yan who graduated same elementary school as me joined us as a Bass since we wanted to perform in a different way. Not only your music but also your art work is pretty impressive on your website. Please tell us about it, too.
Leedian: I liked to do collage, so I used to put some clippings from magazines and books in my room. Now, I do image processing with my pictures and other images from the internet and publish them with my music on my website. What’s the difference with performing as a solo and a part of band?
Cherry: The biggest difference is Tec and Yan give me inspiration which I would never get it if I’ll do it by myself. How do you get inspiration?
Cherry: Yes, I think they’re the same things. How do you feel about performing at Supernormal 2015?
Leedian: Thank you, David at Blue Tapes and thank you all for working on this project. Do you want to try something new near future?
Cherry: I’m not hoping to try to do completely new things because I feel it’s enough with the things which surrounding me however I would love to go deep inside of them. I think that I don’t have enough time to do them all in my life.
Banner image by Teruyuki Kurihara, other image by Hitoshi Asaumi
The general-purpose nature of human intelligence stems from the generality of the algorithms our cortex uses to process the data it receives from the senses.
Colour, movement, pitch, timbre, pressure, pleasure and pain are all converted into synaptic pulses and stored as memories that are sequential, self-associative and invariant.
Sequential because we think and remember stories. Self-associative because we can reconstruct the whole from a part. Invariant because we store high-level structures and leave aside specifics and noise.
These features of our intelligence are the reason why we are able to operate in complex, changing environments without getting bogged down by the need to constantly compute like Laplace’s demons.
This is also the reason why we are able to recognise a melody regardless of its key and tempo. This is what gives the power of analogy and metaphor. This is also why we are able to take songs as different as the ones we are posting today, by Squadra Omega and Windbreaker, and detect the same pattern in them.
We appreciate significant differences in their style and form, but infer, from those features, the same ur-function of musical energy which constitutes the core or essence of almost every single song that has ever been featured in this blog.
We don’t need to tell you what it is. Listen to them, if you share our outlook, you will know.
It represents everything that we love about the so-called “Italian Occult Psychedelia” movement: a speleology of psyche, funk, jazz and gothic music that removes all the artifice to leave a substrate of primarily coloured human emotion, a primeval swamp where the uncanny merges with the instinctive, the kernel of cosmic fear that arrives when we look outside ourselves, at a world full of shadows.
Il Grande Idolo is a piece de resistance among many, a 12 minute long dirge that shrieks, drones and wails with the unselfconsciousness of geological events observed with a colossal time-lapse, before collapsing into a motorik monster out of this world – imagine the chromatics of Suspiria and the geometries of Jodorowky splattered over a triangle projected into infinity, a highway you traverse like Cooper in Interstellar, or Bowman in a Space Odyssey, in the search for a Star Child that perhaps exists into our past, rather than our future.
Windbreaker’s Hostage is a strange thing that exists the intersection of eviscerated dance genres. It’s almost as if Nick Read had adopted the role of a Mayan priest, and extracted the heart of Acid, EBM, AI-IDM and EBM one by one, and then hurled their carcasses into a cenote, from which eventually emerges a beast with the poise of a Hidetaka Miyazaki nightmare.
The feeling of alienness is almost unbearable. We know acid, but not this brittle. We know the death-head rattle of Factory Floor, but not without the dystopia. We know EBM, but not de-sexed. We know Warp’s techno, but not without the ravey trippiness.
Nature abhors vacuum though, and the components of this composite eventually expand to fill the void at its heart with the main thing that they share, a sense of eternal propulsion, a knowledge that stasis is decay, that if you stop moving, you will die.
We run with it for a while, and then we are left behind.
Feeling empty? Sad? Bored? As if your soul was pale gruel?
Worry no more. There are creative people out there putting together artistic structures that will pump your life with sensations so intense your soul will burst.
You feel meta-excited, but still no cigar. You are an empiricist and require evidence of your forthcoming delight. I tell you there is a bauble in my bag that’s precisely the ticket.
It purrs like the turbo-boosters of a cyborg panther guarding impossible gardens funded with the spoils of a criminal empire. Warp forward past this gnomic watcher, up a balcony into a boudoir which is the first prototype of an abstract pornography Virtual Reality where platonic ideals blend into each other like imperial destroyers committing suicide upon a distant supernova.
Like sneak thieves sliding down the simmering corridors of some quantum fortress to plant into the brain at its core strange emotions, a purple haze, a virus of equivocal contours.
This fortress is you. The thief is you. Paco Sala and LX Sweat supplied the funk poisons, the riddim weapons, the holographic siren messing up all the alarm systems. You crash through the final barrier, and fill it all with colour.
Cities engross us with their ability to generate order: complex structures of communication, collaboration, exchange and exploitation. We gaze at them from above as if they were alien glyphs where we read messages, functions and omens (flashbacks from that landing in Mexico City at dusk, in the middle of a thunderstorm, we could almost see the Aztec gods peeking from behind the mountains surrounding it, at the ghost of Tenochtitlan).
As we zoom in, new layers of complexity are revealed in all their fractal glory. A neighbourhood, a building, groups of humans in transition, reflection, worship.
Brains designed to parse the field, the tribe, the immediate threat of a beast lurking in the woods are overloaded with information. We resort to heuristics and shortcuts to make sense of these cities and navigate them.
Visually: maps, itineraries and landmarks.
Sonically: songs that give us mood summaries. The drum’n’bass staccato with which we traverse a neon grid. Grimy downtown back-alleys lacerated by a punk rock blast. The construction of urban coherence in a minimal composition.
In Alex Barnett’s work, which we have now been featuring in 20JFG for several years, we found the perfect soundtrack for the inhuman beauty of urban spaces forlorn of their inhabitants, the strange and maybe perverse fact that their grids and silhouettes are much more natural to most of us than “nature” itself. We have compared this achievement to the drones of John Carpenter, after excising from them the violence and the drama.
Weld, Barnett’s new collaboration with Faith Coloccia takes things to new levels, by overlaying the regular rhythms and synthetic waves fuzzed up in the no-man’s land between design and entropy with new dimensions of time and spirituality – a “folklore for a future age” in their own words.
There are many things to fall in love with here, but if we had to choose one, it would be their tremulous melodies, melodies that a superficial assessment would correlate with a horror soundtrack. The results of our own experiments deploying this music in transit through the streets of London are inconsistent with that assessment though. The emotions they impress of us are of portentous mystery, purpose and grace.
In their crystalline beauty, we hear echoes of Kraftwerk’s Rolf and Florian, a sense of optimism about our ability to evolve out of our morbid interregnum, a hope that the alienness of these sounds represents a future polis we will one day call home.
Over the last 6 months or so, we have been involved in an interview with Tom Hirst (aka Design A Wave) in relation to “International Journey of Synthetic Emotion”, the spectacular 12’’ he released last year in Alien Jams (go and get it here).
The interview covers the philosophical and technical underpinnings of his music. It is very revelatory but instead of detracting with its information from the strange mystery of the sounds in IJSE, it intensifies them. We think this is a testament to the awesomeness of the music, and to Tom’s articulacy.
We hope you enjoy it. The interview concludes with a short mix that Tom put together for us, capturing some of the key ideas covered in our conversation.
Where does this music come from?
“Design A Wave” (initially “Designer Wave”) is a project I started in the late 90s. It’s essentially a “solo-project” but somehow I don’t regard it as “the music of Tom Hirst” (it makes me uncomfortable when people do) and others have helped me out with recording and live performance along the way. The initial name was taken from the name of one of the gangs in the Troma movie “Surf Nazis Must Die” and has since mutated (maybe I was scarred of getting sued?).
The movie’s synthy soundtrack was exemplary of both the aesthetic and technological approach that I wanted take at the time. I think if I have ever recorded a song that didn’t have a synth on then it would at least have had a drum machine on it, so there’s always an electronic element in the music. Of course, a re-imagining of historical times past and their potential futures has often been an aspect too, specifically through stylistic references and the audible residue of the equipment used. Over the years the quality of the equipment I have used has graduated from Zoom to Boss and now I’m pretty much at Roland, save for needing a replacement Juno 106 voice chip (wow, electronic muso joke).
Looking back over my time spent recording/performing music, if I was to extract anything that remained constant it would be a consideration of the potential to transform/put-in-motion the state of the listener’s mind. I’ve always felt that I’m very much not a “sound artist”. Sound for me is an itinerant and often cumbersome hurdle between a performance and any affect/effect which I may wish it to have. My current aim is not to be the architect/designer of sound objects and, perhaps more importantly, nor is it to conjure some kind of meta/transcendental pseudo-religious experience (I’d like to think I’m a punk rocker essentially, er, I mean existentially). That’s not to say I won’t have respect for or enjoy the creative endeavours of associates that might fit these withering definitions, it’s just not what I’m interested in doing.
Let’s say that there’s something called a Vortex whose complete description can at best only be alluded to by a vague notion of some alien geometry. When music is best for me is when language has been de-prioritised or switched off completely and your body feels like there’s a Vortex happening inside your skull. If there’s other people around and they’re feeling the same way and we’re all dancing then that’s nice, too. Music is best for me when you are actually unaware that you are listening – the sound itself is no longer at the forefront of your consciousness and you could just as well be sensing a crescendo of phantom tones. Music is best for me when its immediate cause of sensation is not from sound. So one way to conclude the answer to the question, in a roundabout and probably pretentious way, is to say that my hope is that this music does not come from sound.
What you say reminds me of the “Songs of Eden” fable about the origin of music and mind recounted by George Dyson in his book “Darwin Among the Machines”. According to this fable, music – sounds made by apes – eventually evolved into language as the apes realised that different sounds could be used to communicate a variety of useful messages, and started memorising, replicating and understanding them (as well as developing a conscience). Maybe the Vortex you refer to would be whatever exists in our brain before language takes over, and sound stops being pure structure or experience, and becomes a medium for something else. Either way, what makes you want to create this Vortex instead of, say, more conventional communication, or creating some sort of mood (often with a visual dimension, as seen in the ‘imaginary soundtracks’ of many other artists working with synths)?
I think in many respects a lot of the musics I make would constitute being described as ‘imaginary soundtracks’ and this concept of the Vortex doesn’t necessarily exclude that. The idea of the Vortex is more an observation of the nature of my musical “practice” (both as a performer and listener) and less a statement of intent and/or method. As my relationship with music has transformed, I’ve passed through varying and even contradictory methods, aesthetics, politics what-have-you of music but the Vortex has always remained to some extent.
My statement about the Vortex is an attempt (perhaps under the duress of my own status anxiety) to position myself with a critical understanding of what it is that I’m doing when I’m making music.
The idea about music as atavism/evolutionary throwback is a good parallel to describe my attitude: yes, the evolution of (human) music can probably be traced to a bunch of primates smashing skulls but I believe that’s not a necessity for the existence of music. It’s outlandish but it would be wholly possible that music is a symptom of an intergalactic genetic virus infected in us by some faraway mischievous alien beings. I’m of course not saying that is the absolute genealogical source of music but it’s a way to illustrate that, in my naive interpretation of evolution, it’s possible that there are multiple convergent pathways to the same end. Then the Vortex can be understood as an effect of listening to sound but not necessarily as such – perhaps another science fiction alternative would be the Vortex induced via neurological implants? In that sense, the job of exciting the Vortex becomes open to transformation and is not fixed in one method or another.
The point about language is that music does not have to be a primitive antecedent to language and that both are specific entities in our understanding of “nature”. Just as apes with bones is not a necessary precursor for music nor is music a necessary precursor for language. I believe both came about through evolution but neither are necessitated by any particular evolutionary process. The appeal of the Vortex for me is the possibility of a concrete space of human experience that is indifferent to the abstractions of language but I certainly don’t see that as a return to some lost essence of humanity.
Teenage metaphysics aside, I basically want to make music that’s going to shake some cobwebs lose in peoples minds/bodies.
The three songs in “International Journey of Synthetic Emotion’ are quite different from each other in form if not destination (erecting that alien geometry you mentioned). What process do you follow in generating them, in building that Vortex? How do these things start, branch out and take form?
It’s basically a pun but the word synthesis can be used in many ways to sum up how I make music. Synthesisers have had a hold on me for a long time. I’m basically a lot more dexterous mentally than physically and synthesisers provide me with a flexible way to to make music without having to spend all my time practising scales. They also sound great to my ears (but that probably contradicts the concept of the Vortex, oh well).
I don’t have any specific method but when I’m recording but until recently I’d generally start with either a percussion or a bass part, record that and then work out melodic and harmonic parts over the top. I might then strip away the original rhythm and bring in new parts and I’ve even quite a few times started a piece by putting in a recording by someone else which had a harmonic progression that I liked, worked out my own parts that followed the harmonic structure and then removed the original recording. So there’s generally a synthesis at work in terms of combining and constructing things.
Recently, my approach has been a lot more technical and this is part of a general movement on my part to “synthesise” my interests in maths and computer science with my music. I did a lot of research around both digital and analogue audio synthesis. I really enjoyed and learnt a lot from reading “The Theory and Technique of Electronic Music” by Miller Puckette (the creator of Max/MSP and Pure Data). It’s basically because it reads like a maths textbook, which says a lot about my taste in literature.
At the moment, I’m almost entirely using an analogue euro-rack modular synthesiser. I’ve always felt my music was not that interesting rhythmically (often I have one drum machine loop all the way through a track) so I’m specifically trying to learn how to get it to make “generative” rhythms. I’ve read a bit about that but I’m yet to find a text that wasn’t unenjoyable and tedious so I’m having fun working it out myself and that’s starting to become productive.
The track III from International Journey of Synthetic Emotion was arrived at in a particularly elaborate way. At some point I stumbled on this youtube video of a speaking piano).
Musically I didn’t really find it that interesting but I was fascinated technically and set out to find out how it worked. I ended up with a Pure Data patch that would use fourier transforms to generate midi notes from audio input. In doing so, I discovered that the patch could be put to use as a pretty complex arpeggiator and this is what is generating the notes for the “lead” synth and the “acidy” bits that occasionally come in the background in the piece. The drums were made using “euclidean” rhythm generators. At first, the track had drums all the way through and was a bit boring so I added the “house”-y chords and bassline and stripped back the drums until the end.
I liked the way there was this harmonic weirdness with the melodies and the new harmony but I’ve some how become familiar with it now and so can’t “un-understand” it. The other 2 tracks on that record were made with my modular synth which was also triggering drum machines and then me playing keys over the top, all recorded to a stereo mix-down.
Could you elaborate on the idea of synthesising your interests in maths and computer science with your music? To which elements or ideas in those disciplines do you refer? What is it about them that makes you want to integrate them into your music, and the way you create it?
My position is highly ambivalent and if anything I’d celebrate that. I actually detest a lot of music that gets made with computers but on the other hand groking technical concepts is something that I find creatively fulfilling, in the same way that interacting with music is. The contradiction between my interest in immutable mathematical concepts and messy music making came to such a point that I simply had to “go there”.
It’s hard to say how these interests actually get used in practice, the attraction for me has always been more theoretical/philosophical. The primary interests for me are fundamental epistemological and ontological questions, as in, what are mathematics and computers and what can (and can’t) they tell us about the world. In reality, it’s hard to bring that to bear in the practice of music making. It certainly helps, if you’re recording music with a computer (as I do), to have a bit of understanding about what’s technically happening. In general, my music making is much more schematised than it used to be but that’s more on account of a conditioned attitude than for the purpose of any practical application.
The live set I’ve been performing recently is performed entirely on a modular synthesiser and I’m making use of a sample and hold module and a logic gate module to generate rhythms. These are the fundamental components required to a construct a digital computer with which to make music, so I like to jokingly think of that synth almost as a “deconstructed” DAW (digital audio workstation). It’s mostly likely hare-brained and deserves a deeper contextualisation than I’m willing to give but I’m working from a minimal proposition that all that is schematic is not computational and this manner of audio synthesis provides me with a creative way of feeling my way through that idea.