Music and the internet are locked in a grotesque marriage full of violence and self-deception, fleeting (but easily reproduced) pleasure and lingering (but always apparently almost overcome) dissatisfaction, which makes it unsurprising that some of the most critically lauded records from the past year or so have taken the interchange of the pair as a point from which to spin out a new mythological music. The myth seems to me to be that music can build itself poignantly out of fragments of the internet into something that both transcends that content, becoming a force in its own right able to move listeners to emotional states both sublime and unnerving, and comments upon it, the titles of tracks and albums, the snippets of human language that mutate, repeat, appear and dissolve, and the discourse surrounding the records, via the creators themselves, the record labels, and the music press, mixing with the music and creating a net of sounds and words, ideas and moods that enter into manifold shifting couples, triplets, etc. We can believe in this myth or we cannot but as sure as I am that it is intriguing, I am often as unsure as to exactly what the stakes are.
I am thinking about Oneohtrix Point Never’s Returnal and James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual; I am thinking about things like the futurity of the present insured by the manifest virtual world of the internet, an archive from which pieces can be gnawed off, their traces of the past becoming part of the future of music, overt ghosts. JG Ballard had suggested already in the early ’60s, in an article called “Time, Memory and Inner Space,” that one of the most powerful things that a writer of speculative fiction such as himself does is to develop a “fusion of past and present experiences, and of such disparate elements as the modern office buildings of central London and an alligator in a Chinese zoo,” which “resembles the mechanisms by which dreams are constructed, and perhaps the great value of fantasy as a literary form is its ability to bring together apparently unconnected and dissimilar ideas.” This dream world of past and present has been physically present in music since the advent of sampling but that self-reflexivity with which it is being practiced seems to be continuing to gain in intensity.
I won’t go on any further about this, for the moment, as this is a review of the new Ital record, Hive Mind, and not an in-depth attempt to decode or invent what more and more numerous books have attempted to decode or invent. But these are some of the ideas, partial but resonant, that I find Hive Mind engaging with in my head and ears and body. It does so much more overtly than his previous 12-inches for 100% Silk, or on the dystopian bliss ride of “Culture Clubs,” released on his own Lovers Rock imprint. Already there Daniel Martin McCormick, moving out from his other projects, Mi Ami and Sex Worker, was taking the gridded templates of Chicago house/Detroit techno and drawing strange transversal lines all over them, courting accidents, amorously breaking what was not yet sufficiently broken, taking electronic dance music’s fascination with the linear development of fields of sound and both adroitly aping it and sabotaging it, just enough of each so that “Ital’s Theme” or “Only for Tonight” merge the zoned out depths of “deep” EDM with the equally repetitive but more affronting ecstasies of certain realms of noise and psychedelia.
Hive Mind moves the project significantly forward, though whether it is through the diversity of the material here, the over ten-minute length of three of the five tracks, or something substantively different in the sound design, I am not really yet certain. I just know that these are all places to get lost in, to wake up, to fall back into rapt attention; admittedly, my greatest fascination with EDM moves between dancing and the sort of attention that it can develop in a listener, and this record fascinates on that latter account both while moving and static. “It Doesn’t Matter (If You Love Him)” begins things at a level nearing brutality, a savagely sliced and repeated Lady Gaga sample abetted by, yes, Whitney Houston: it doesn’t matter if he loves you not because you are empowered but because it simply doesn’t matter, nothing matters, nothing will save you, or perhaps the rhythm, but only if you give in: such is the suggestion of all the synth-stabs, the track’s unfolding like a debauched brain scan.
One of the things I like about Ballard’s fiction, the ideas of which have been wrestled into many a commentary on electronic music over the past 30 years, has to do less with the ideas than the way they congregate into an enveloping atmosphere, a weird and particular set of feelings that I get drowned in through his particular manner of making a writing full of ideas and images at once precise and ungraspable. What I like best about “Floridian Void” is somewhat similar, its manner of absorbing me, a manner that adheres in techno and house but is taken far here by developing a feeling of floating, a forward movement that can proceed only in spiraling, unstably, the pitch-shifting synths never settling. At the beginning of “Israel” we hear a voice say that “the internet has become a place of evil,” and while that seems more addressed at its content, the cold, pristine flushes of synthesizer color merge with the stumbling gait of the percussion and bass to form an entire world toward which I feel ambivalent, not only what is in it, but its very nature, which is attractive in its ambiguity but make me conscious as well of some danger in its constitution, a life behind its shadows.
So while I began by talking about the internet and music, it is difficult to say precisely how Hive Mind articulates that relationship, only that it does touch on it, suggest it, bring it into play. Titles like “Privacy Settings” – appended to a sludgy electronic dirge that peaks in a mechanical howling redolent of wolves or zombies – and “Hive Mind,” as well as the sample in “Israel,” or the obliterated human voices that hover between planes on “Floridian Void,” draw possible lines of connection that you can think along as far as you like. But then it all depends on what you feel when you are in the music and in that this is a record very much in tune with any number of house mantras, though when the start and stop, moody disco-house of “First Wave” comes to a close, bringing Hive Mind to its end, I wouldn’t be surprised if more than a few people found themselves thinking, and unable to think, what it all means while simultaneously registering that, this being music, the namelessness of its experience may in the end be the point, that breath of life only breathed into those who have managed to relinquish the control provided by interactive media and submit to an hour of a completely different human’s world of sound. This is the myth I find most worth believing: music can restore to us a sense of duration that the internet fissures, restores the balance between these ways of experiencing in us, but only in our submitting to it, whatever that may mean to you.
Morphosis – What We Have Learned
Maria Minerva – Noble Savage
Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal
Stream: Ital – “Floridian Void”