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Thursday
Jan192012

Ian Martin - Mechanical Rain

Further Records

 

When technological availability collided with state-sanctioned ideologies of futurity and escape, the post-war living rooms of Europe became awash with sounds from other dimensions. Transmitted over the airwaves from hubs in Paris, Cologne, and London, listeners were increasingly confronted with a world that had been created, dismantled, and reconstructed in laboratory conditions, rather than produced in real-time. Machines had occasionally trespassed into the concert hall already of course, but for the first time, the musical and the mechanical started to fuse in the popular aural unconscious.

In post-cold war climes, aurality became truly unconscious with the rise of ambient, a genre and scene where eclecticism and reflection was prized over the arguably more conservative dancefloor remit of its immediate club-based forebears. Though it may have chosen telepathy over radio communication as its means of transmission, ambient’s connections back to early electronic music are there to be unmasked, considering the tendency of DJ’s like Alex Paterson and Mixmaster Morris to play BBC soundtrack records over process pieces by Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

It is such a lineage that Ian Martin belatedly teases out on Mechanical Rain, as he channels the atmosphere of a deserted chillout room by deploying the tools of ancient recording With track titles like ‘Voice of Space’ and ‘Moving Activity’ seemingly filched from Daphne Oram’s freshly opened archive, there is a distinctly radiophonic air to the album. The latter track’s disconcertingly off-kilter 5-against-3 pulse has been filtered through a dusty low frequency bandpass, bringing the frailty of early studio techniques to the fore. ‘Wires’ achieves a similar effect with multiple LFOs warbling behind an April shower of stochastic synthdrops and a drunken chorus of atonal alarms.

The rough formula across the album is to set a series of processes in motion and leave them to run, only occasionally modulating the relationship between the constituent parameters. Hence the machinic drone cluster of ‘Drups’ wavers upwards in pitch, whilst a generative sequence of icy blips like water dripping from industrial stalactites fades in and out. ‘Voice of Space’ has short loops of field recordings echoing until they coalesce into a woozy pattern of degraded tones and screeches, like one of Pierre Schaeffer’s trains eternally pulling into the station, which builds and ebbs on tides of its own fed back signal.

Such moments are invariably glued together by drones and monophonic synth textures straight out of an early Biosphere project, as on ‘Stream’ where the ambience soundtracks an insistent scratching sound that judders like tape twitching back and forth over magnetic heads. The pentatonic FM synth motif that glides over the title track, the last of the set, is another stylized trick from the mid-nineties toolbox; here however it sounds refreshingly incongruous after the lo-fi aesthetic of the preceding album.

The six tracks average out around the seven to eight minute mark each, which gives them room to breathe, but not quite enough time to evolve beyond mere sketch; consequently they are perhaps a little too impressionistic to justify their improvisational structures. In this sense, Mechanical Rain has convincingly inherited some of the formal concerns that plague much early concrète or radiophonic music, as well as their soundworld – the difference being that, whereas early composers were bound by the limitations of the studio, here such a choice is simply fetishistic. Though he approaches it at times, it would be intriguing to hear the pioneering spirit that clearly fascinates Martin addressing a more contemporary set of technological constrictions.

Toby Bennett

@tgpb85

Buy Mechanical Rain direct from Further

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