A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Gyratory System, the experimental London 3 piece of Dr. Andrew Blick, his father Robin Blick & James Weaver, exist in a liminal state, breaking down binaries: improvised/composition, old/new, acoustic/electric. They are torchbearers, leading us through the sulfurous swamps of digital uncertainty and deadly nostalgia, hinting at the future.
On Utility Music, the third LP from Gyratory System, the trio employ an unlikely tapestry of trumpet, woodwinds, violins, recorders and the human voice, for the first time, to create a retrodelic soundtrack to some ’70s tropical documentary. I say unlikely, because you’d be hard pressed to find these real world instruments in this document, which sounds more like Analord-era Aphex Twin than Johnny Hodges or Supersilent. For a band that started with On The Corner-era Miles Davis, this is an indication of a real right turn, a new chapter in this intriguing sonic narrative.
If i were pressed to compare Gyratory System to just one band, it’d be Ghost Box Record’s The Focus Group, employing a similar arsenal of tiny, tinny toy synthesizers and canned machine drums, to make a kind of Victorian rave musick. Keeping with The Focus Group’s sense of authentic anachronism, Gyratory System let their synths speak for themselves, don’t bog down the electronics with too much post-production. Instead, they let the inherent complexities of interlocking melodies and slivers of chord sequences produce a natural hypnosis, an 8-bit trance. They call upon all of my favorite aspects of any music in the Hauntological diaspora; the reliance on melodies, the right choice of synth, immaculate production and graphic design (digging that orbital artwork!).
Utility Music opens with “John Frum”, a jaunty adventure theme of bare bones beats and plasticine basslines, based upon the patron saint of polynesian cargo cults. Any album that starts off with a track that sounds like Drexciya doing breakdance music, that references obscure island cults from the ’40s already has my vote, so i’m strapping in, and trying to figure out what the heck this record has to say. “Harmonograph,” the first single from Utility Music, is drawing from a similar radiophonic, radioactive well, with acid lead synths and cuckoo counterpoint. So far, this is like watching some classroom documentary on Fernando Poo, or wandering around on the island from Lost. Around 2:30, a quick, stuttering comes in, shakes thing up. Another leaden-eared reviewer called this record “single-tempo crud, tedious and, perhaps most damningly, useless.” First of all, this person probably doesn’t listen to too much Library Music, and doesn’t know how to dive down through layers to find the magnificence. Secondly, although a lot of this record does stick to a similar BPM, the silver’s in the details. In a recent interview with The Quietus, Andrew Blick talked about the goals or motives of Gyratory System:
I would say you don’t need to try to understand it, it is about rhythms and textures washing over you, repeating and modulating along the way.
In this, it is similar to the rhythmic repetition of Steve Reich, to which GS are often compared, and it says a lot about layers and loops, the way this music is constructed, and why it is important.
Gyratory System compose music using a method called The Process, in which they construct backing tracks, and then have musicians improvise over top. This cuts through a lot of the stale, cold sterility of purely digital music, the droney repetiveness of strictly loop-based music, and suggests an exciting third way, a blending of soul and logic, of Humanity and its machines.
I feel like Utility Music revitalizes the hauntological movement, and clarifies it’s boundaries, as well. I feel like it all boils down to THE PAST, and what then are we to do about it. There’s one camp that makes new things sound old. There’s another faction that makes old things sound new. Gyratory System are of the former, in the case of Utility Music, and it’s a little mind-blowing that they created this space-age bachelor pad music with trumpets and saxophones.
Gyratory System are pure musicians, total theoreticians. They are interested in the limits of sound and format, and how far they can be pushed. It is all, to quote one of my other series, all for the sake of the song. Because of this they never grow old, never stop push, never stop experimenting. It is this motive of pure creativity that dispels the myth of no more progress. The goal is creativity, to make something new. Even if it’s out of something old.
Gyratory System are important. They are crossing previously hard boundaries, and re-invigorating both jazz and electronic music, in the process. Most of the time, you couldn’t pay me enough money to hear a techno track with a sax or a trumpet on it, which is usually some soulless bland acid-jazz, watered down wannabe trip-hop. It’s all just grist for the mill, in GS’s case, and trying to guess where the sounds come from is half of the fun.
Gyratory Systems have been compared to artists as wide-ranging as Harmonia to The Residents, Talk Talk to Steve Reich. They’ve been described as “a soundtrack for Looney Tunes, written by Kraftwerk,” “hypnotic and irresistible” and “just plain bonkers”. This anything goes attitude and wide ranging listening habits are the most commendable traits, to this listener, and matches my own experience as a postmodern music fanatic and producer.
We cannot be weighed down by the past. We cannot be crushed under the weight of tradition, or expectation. Each day, we wake up fresh; the past is merely a construct of our minds, and it’s up to us, what we do with it. Gyratory System are clearly inspired by the past, but not enslaved by it, which makes this Futuristic Music.
Totally recommended. Make yr life go anti-gravity. Reclaim adventure. Rediscover the future!
<em>Utility Music is out now on Soft Bodies Records.</em>