A Journal Of The Dark Arts
The movement from guitars to synthesizers has been an interesting one. It seems to indicate the resurgence of futurism, even if it is retroactive one. Or maybe the new age story just picked up where it left off, 30 years ago.
Anjou is the new project from Robert Donne and Mark Nelson of Labradford, joined by Steven Hess on live percussion, who has played with Locrian, Fennesz, and Pan American. It is the first time Donne and Nelson have released anything together since Labradford’s Fixed:: Context, also on Kranky, in 2001. Anjou’s self-titled record is made up of modular synth, MAX/MSP programming, rhythmic noise, and some drums.
Donne and Nelson have been investigating the infinite for a long time, with Labradford, using longform composition and a combination of guitars, pedals, and technologies to create evolving soundworlds, gigantic cavernous spaces to wander around and get lost in. What is striking about Anjou is there are no guitars, just falling synthesizers, glistening oscillators and glowing raga LFOs, with the addition of Hess’ drumming, sometimes live and sometimes programmed.
I don’t know if it’s just because i’ve been listening to too many sci-fi synth records lately, or watching retrodelic SF films, but i just can’t help but think of Outer Space, when i listen to this record. With the guitars, you can’t help but get the feeling that a person is wrestling with the mysteries – so many feelings, so much history, is conveyed through those fingers on vibrating electric steel strings. Let’s not forget, also, that try as we might, when playing “instruments”, its hard to get away from “music”, and the restrictions of harmony, and conventional tonality. It’s easy to get stuck in a box, basically.
We also have to wonder why Donne And Nelson are choosing now to release music again, and why release it under a different name? What does it reveal, that the pair are moved to start making music together again?
I think it’s in the synthesizers.
Many, many experienced musicians are finding a new lease on life through experimenting with and incorporating synthesizers of various ilk, particularly analog and modular synth. There is something there that people just seem to crave; the irreproducability, the jamming feel, the unencumbered control over sound. There is an unpredictability, in the synthesis, that makes it border on epiphany, and musicians are free to ride, and explore, and listen.
Because of this, more and more people are jamming on electronic instruments – creating strains and variations of rough-hewn, spewing noise Techno, to synth odysseys, to retro-industrial minimalism, and the rediscovery of a lost generation of skinny trousered progeny.
I think it’s very telling, this refound interest in synthesizers. It really feels, to me, that we are living in a harmonic of the late ’70s, the time when many of our conceptions the future were planted. Let’s not forget that, in 1977, people were getting married by Chewbacca. Sci-fi was in. Unanimously. And of course, many of the hauntological roots spring from that time, Britain and it’s uncanny television. The thing of it is, it all boils down to a futurism. The hope that there will be something better, that there are still things to explore. We are rewinding the clock to a time before the triumph of the spectacle, and the conquest of late capitalism, and it still seemed like there were possibilities and alternatives.
It was also a time when science was interacting with spirituality, briefly. There was psychedelic research, altered states, the whole self-help psychology movement. Look at Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape as a for instance. They were going to prove the existence of the afterlife, through science. Science was not merely dismissive and rational, they still acknowledged the unknown, and their own ignorance. Modern science claims to know everything, have all the answers, even though the fundamental paradigm seems to change ever 10 to 50 years. Riddle me this, science…
The thing with Anjou and their synthesizers is that rather than wrestling with the infinite, they are becoming the infinite. Becoming the music of the spheres, the heavenly harmonies.
I don’t know if it’s because of the track names, but i am picking up on some abduction mythology here, life in anti-gravity. With track names like ‘Sighting’, ‘Specimen Question’, ‘Readings’, ‘Adjustment’, ‘Fieldwork’, my mind conjured a story of someone who was abducted and taken for a ride, and then brought back, to re-adjust and live life, becoming a little obsessed in the process.
Labradford’s music, like Beethoven’s, sounded to me, like man’s relation to nature, to the cosmos, to the infinite. It was still human. Anjou is transhuman. It is beyond us. Synthesizers have the ability to conjure things we’ve never seen before, to dream undreamt thoughts. The thing of it is, though, most people never get beyond the screwing around phase, plugging things in and making them go (which i also like). But Donne and Nelson are seasoned veterans, and have been playing music for a long TIME. On top of this, you know that everything on Kranky looks and sounds great. So what we’re left with is a refined and polished synth document, a true odyseey, a modern cosmic classic.
That’s not to say that this music is unemotional. You get a sense of the artist’s hand in the wavering crystalline treble, and the rough grit of the low pass filter. On top of that, there seems to be all manner of post-production scuzzing, warping, and mangling, like the tape had been rubbed in dirt a little bit, left in the sun.
It’s noisy. It’s beautiful. It’s imaginative. It’s haunting.
What more do you need?
Here’s another review at the rather nice Echoes And Dust blog, as well.