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Konx-Om-Pax - Regional Surrealism

Konx-om-Pax - Regional Surrealism Trailer from Planet Mu on Vimeo.

Planet Mu

It would be convenient to say that Tom Scholefield is marking out his territory as a British Oneohtrix Point Never. Both artists deploy scratched out sampladelics and home recordings over analogue soundscapes to produce juddering half-remembered dreamworlds while, whereas Daniel Lopatin’s 2011 outing had a bright, almost silverscreen sheen to it, Regional Surrealism basks in a grainier, homegrown warmth. It’s convenient because, in truth, the association takes you a reasonable distance towards imagining the sort of shapeshifting electronic impressionism we’re dealing with here – which is half my job done. But only half because, beyond the surface of such comparisons, it’s clear that Scholefield is pursuing a far less hermetic or immediate vision. This album swims in a viscous extra-musical soup of Gnosticism, Dada and playful syncretic reference that seeps into the listening process over time, inf(l)ecting it with surplus significance.

The music is a study in the sonic dialogism of light and dark, with tracks bathed in shifting shades and shadows. Roughly speaking, it glows brighter towards its central stack of five or so tracks, fading in and out towards the edges. The slowed down arpeggiator synth patterns that characterise much of the album, lending it a metronomic yet aleatory feel, come to the fore as the luminosity increases, while other more spectral presences wander in darkness unanchored. These form the backdrop for degraded and altered samples to appear in relief like sand-worn hieroglyphs on desert stone. The Konx Om Pax were of course Aleister Crowley’s essays in light, by which the high priest of the occult was referring to illumination in terms both of the visible frequencies of the spectrum and the expansion of consciousness, in a gleeful semantic elision. It’s an association that brings with it a musical lineage of Crowley-ites from 60s psychedelia through Genesis P-Orridge and Psychick Warriors ov Gaia to the Black Dog and their collaborative Dadavistic Orchestra. Electronic music, it seems, meshes keenly with mysticism.

Such associations are most obvious on ‘Sura-Tura-Cosi-Gnosi’, where collaborator Steven Retchard’s voice is transformed and layered as he recites a text alluding to himself as both Lazarus and Jesus, “risen from the dead and…riser of the dead”, who aims to convey “the importance of our celestial future”. It’s a destiny – and also an origin – glimpsed on ‘Pillars of Creation’, where the ear struggles to derive a clear sense of direction from its mess of overlayed patterns, but out of which melodic lines gradually emerge, suggesting that negentropy is to be understood as a property of perception. The explicit coupling of artistic endeavour with resurrection and necromancy, as well as portraying it as a path to some manner of post-human awakening, may be clumsily overburdened with religious baggage but as a simple metaphor it serves to legitimise a tactic of reanimation and repurposing of existing music – particularly the sound of Warp records circa 2001-2003. The tumbling magickal haze of Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi is a clear influence on ‘At Home With Mum and Dad’, for example, with its demonic whispering and breathy synthesiser contractions; Mira Calix’s ticking insect-fetishism turns up on ‘Twin Portal Redux’, all chattering glitches and mellow sines that eventually collapse in shimmering exhalation; the over-compressed choral degradation of Chris Clark shines on ‘Silent Reading’. The opening two notes of ‘Isotonic Pool’ even match, tone for tone, the pitch-shifted whistle melody of Aphex Twin’s ‘Cock/Ver10’ – indeed the pervasive authority of the latter’s SAW II album resonates throughout.  

Elsewhere, the sound conjures the aural interstices of the turn of the nineties; drawing on computer games (‘Glacier Mountain Descent’ and ‘Lagoon Leisure’ even sound like levels on a jauntily themed Nintendo platformer) and schools’ informational programmes, there is a fascination here with the sound of functional electronic music past, of technology put to a use that outdates itself as soon as it is deployed, initiating the slow degradation of the new and opening the sounds to a process of cultural institutionalisation. The track title ‘Zang Tumb’ may be an overt reference to Marinetti and Russolo’s uncompromising Futurist vision but in reality the album moves away from the timbral purism of reduced listening implied by their texts. In its ambiguous approach to technologised sound, Regional Surrealism has far more in common with the playful Dada aesthetic of latter-day Zang Tumb Tuum’ers the Art of Noise. There is an engaged fascination with the very concept of audio nostalgia itself and, by extension a will to move beyond music as merely curatorial, to take it into unknown domains. Here marks the place where hauntology begins to haunt itself.

Toby Bennett

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