It is common when writing about electronic music to use metaphors of sentience, to try to articulate that specific feel of music generated by synths, drum machines, laptops and the like. The ‘dancing robot’ trope applied to Kraftwerk, New Order, Detroit techno and the like is a good example. The super brainy artificial intelligence spawning the decentred, asymmetric sounds of Autechre and Oneohtrix Point Never is another.
This record, six bursts of dense, bruised electronic, doesn’t make me think about robots dancing, or about hyper-intelligent data cores. In fact, it turns these images on their head, bringing to mind something much more organic and messy, part-human and part machine, cyborg rather than robot.
Its creators, Jo Tanz and Laurent Gerard, are French experimental musicians who, with underground icon Ghedalia Tazarté, also perform as Reines D’Angleterre (they played recently in London, fact fans). They’re performing as a duo for this album, which came out a month or so ago on Luke Younger’s Alter label, gathering up their piles of kit for a bunch of extended improvisation sessions, painstakingly edited down to get the tracks you hear on the record.
It’s a naggingly addictive album, one that sounds unique even as it deploys familiar signifiers of one corner of the experimental electronic music world – burbling synths, serrated jags of noise, broken down drum machines, etc. Perhaps the strange, propulsive nature of many of the tracks is the reason. Les Spirales Messmer, for example, has a kind of rubbery forward motion, an irregular and insistent kick drum hammering away like some Duracell bunny. Every so often, an irregular vibrating bass throb rubs up against it with a pleasing frisson, while mournful bells and chimes decay slowly in the background.
On Ceremonie Blanche, it’s a two-note synth riff that pushes things forward, a hysterical waltz that becomes more feverish and oppressive as the track continues. Strange gurgles and clicks only add to the disorder. And Couleuvre’s weird squelch seems really … fast, despite being almost completely formless, slithering across the record in a frankly queasy manner.
Combined with this is the album’s striking deployment of vocal material. Taped, sampled, manipulated, distorted, mashed, scuzzed – almost every piece uses the human voice somewhere, however disguised. Sometimes, on the rusting ambient cloud of Baillon Rose, they’re barely intelligible, fuzzy echoes of a presence, yet still exerting an emotional pull.
Mineral’s scorched, minimal backing track is overlaid with strangled yelps and distorted yelps, like a drunken pensioner singing through a megaphone. It is both sinister and strangely affecting, a last mournful lament of a dying organism. It reminds me of Donna Haraway’s vision of the cyborg – not the gleaming hybrid of science fiction, but a monstrous fusion of animal and machine. This is, perhaps, why the pieces have such an organic feel, despite their layers of drones, whines and clanks.
These vocal manipulations also bring to mind the kind of throaty mangling that Mark E Smith has been deploying on the last few Fall records. I’m thinking of Re-Mit in particular, where, through a combination of his own vocalising and processing, he achieves a remarkable range of sounds, gargles, mumbles, growls and outright shrieks. It’s often bloody terrifying, and there’s a similar kind of sinister feeling on tracks like Les Spirales Messmer. The piece’s distorted howls combine with the layers of aural debris to hint at some kind unnameable horror.
Dédales is a fine record, one that expands the sonic palette of electronic music and opens it up to new possibilities. While it’s never particularly clear who’s doing what on this record, or indeed, what these strange mangled sounds are, that’s all part of the fun. Each track is a gargling, bleeping morass that offers up more details at every listen.