A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Seattle’s enereph and Portland’s Production Unit Xero explore modern classic, ambient, and streamlined beats for this evocatively poetic split for Heterodox Records!
Recalling a time when I was quite young, about seven, in the backseat of my parents’ car. A strip mall parking lot, waiting for them to pick something up. I stared into the window and saw my reflection faintly in tinted glass, apparition in the framed piece of sky. I looked at my face and spoke my name, the meaning of which was my face. I repeated this again and again, feeling the once-tight equivalence of name and face drain slowly of its power until suddenly they were severed and I fell.
Creating a context for a wordless piece of art can make all the difference in the world. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor didn’t earn the title “Moonlight Sonata” until 5 years after his death and 30 years after its premier, we must remember. Ludwig Ellstab’s allusions to the dark waves of Lake Lucerne glistening in the moonlight helped cement that piano fantasia in the public fascination, no doubt.
It’s something the electronic music struggles with all-too-often, largely thanks to its mostly utilitarian nature. Much of dance music is made to make us lose our shit on the dancefloor, and there’s entirely nothing wrong with that. In fact, there’s something even a little noble in its egolessness. And yet, especially for us electronic music acolytes, we go looking for the Maker’s Mark, the signal in the noise that makes truly great pieces of electronic art stand out.
This instinct speaks to the almost contradictory nature facing electronic music in particular. On one hand, a work of art shouldn’t need outside context to succeed. Think of the opaque monochromatic canvas with some high-concept placard by way of explanation to illustrate the shortcomings of that approach to art. It also speaks to the modern Press Cycle, which so often requires some salacious detail to hang a narrative on. Like the indie rock band Girls and their debut, Album, which made much of lead singer Christopher Owen’s escape from the Children of God cult which, for the cynically minded, can sometimes smack of trauma porn.
Good art, however, stands on its own two feet. Rothko’s bichromatic canvasses are masterpieces of colour theory and composition, regardless of whether you know the artist’s intent or not. “Piano Sonata No. 14” will still give you chills, with or without Lake Lucerne.
All of which makes premoniss | Bukimi no Tani Genshō so utterly effective as it manages to fulfill both urges at the exact same time. On one hand, it’s one of the Heterodox Records’ most personal albums to date, as both sides are inspired by formative surreal experiences from both Seattle’s enereph and Portland’s Production Unit Xero, while also engaging with some of these concerns around art, narrative, and sociological conversations around The Uncanny.
enereph opens things up with premoniss, the first 5 tracks. The excerpt up top explains the idea’s origin, with enereph’s Connie Fu describing a surreal moment in a strip mall parking lot, which is explored with a beguiling, kaleidoscopic array of sound collage, abstract ambient, and a handful of modern beat-oriented genres. Album opener “sinew to pith” sounds like John Cage being remixed for Recollections GRM, with peaceful harp glissandi rising out of mechanical murk and emotional post-classical piano falls down the stairs before contenting itself with moonlight ripplings.
“silenthes,” on the other hand, is straight-up futuristic, with its glistening phosphorescent bassline and knackered locked-groove beat. “Sinew to pith” might be the peaceful, easy feeling of leaving your body, in which case “silenthes” would be the exhilaration of hitting the warp-drive. If that’s the case, it would be in a ship like something out of Flight of the Navigator, given the melting ferric Boards Of Canada-like quality of “ferros.”
Production Unit Xero’s side is entirely subterranean, on the other hand, originating from a time in which Heterodox Record co-founder Ramon Mills left a long-standing relationship to move into a too-small garden level apartment. This is Bukimi no Tani Genshō which, in case you didn’t know, is the name of the infamous essay by Masahiro Mori which popularized the phrase “The Uncanny Valley.”
Bukimi no Tani Genshō is a collection of work that falls between the spaces and chapters of my life.
The tracks on this album were written in a time that I consider my uncanny valley.
I was living in a tiny basement apartment that was way too small for me and my studio. I didn’t feel comfortable in the apartment or at my desk.
I had recently split with my partner of 11 years and was between the life that I had known and the life that I was about to start.
I could feel both of those spaces viscerally, but they were both out of reach at the time.
From this half-life, Production Unit Xero laid out the skeletons that would become Bukimi, hashed out on a digitrakt and iPad and recorded live straight into a Zoom recorder. Whereas premoniss has more of an airy modern classical feel, Bukimi no Tani Genshō is more straight modern clinical Techno ambiance a la Autechre at their most precision machined. All momentun is lost with the title track, however – all disorienting digital echoes over a hypnotic half-time beat. It’s the sound of a ghost in the machine becoming self-aware, even at the expense of existential dread.
From there, it’s a departure into more of Production Unit Xero’s trademarked flights of fancy via Mills’ signature acid-soaked IDM, suggesting the ghost has become aware and androids, in fact, dream of organic sheep. Until the whole system breaks down, swallowing itself whole…
premoniss | Bukimi no Tani Genshō is one of Heterodox Records’ most ambitious and impressive releases to date, made even more so with the inclusion of a book of line drawings from both artists as well as a booklet of writings explaining the album’s origins. Frankly, the more i listen, the more i’m convinced it’s flawless, hitting that sweet spot between dancefloor mechanics and personal reverie. With every release i become increasingly obsessed with Heterodox Records, taking its place alongside Warp and Rephex in the early-to-mid-’90s or Mille Plateaux at the turn of the millennium
premoniss | Bukimi no Tani Genshō is out now on Heterodox Records as both a digital download as a limited edition compact disc.