John Chantler hasn’t released any significant solo albums for seven years and The Luminous Ground suggests he’s spent that time wrestling with his machines until, finally, he’s given up and has let them speak for themselves, twisted electronic entrails and all.The album opens with a peak-experience rush of oscillation, no gently evolving crescendos here, we’re thrust right into the eye of the storm; wave upon waves of densely thatched bursts and burrs. There’s a million different things going on, a fractal approach that rewards deep listening. You’re not going to play this in the background; it kind of negates human activity. I tried to listen to this while playing with the kids; they stared at me like I’d asked them to eat ice-cream made out of knives.
It’s a bold move to open the album with this kind of abandon; many of his peers would get to this point eventually but they’d take their time; Chantler just flips everything into the red and comes out blasting. You’ll need to hang on, it took me three listens to hear this properly and I’m not convinced I’ve got everything in the right place even now. This is machine blood, bubbling. If Chris Watson had recorded this and claimed it was the sound of Deep Blue thinking, Touch obsessives (and The One Show viewers) would be lining up, wriggling like eels.It’s not all machine mayhem; there’s moments of subtle beauty here too, which aligns Chantler temporarily with the likes of Keith Fullerton Whitman; one track might be the melody from Underworld’s “Rez” let loose from its beat-driven shackles and left to tear at its own synthetic flesh. Throughout the album, even in the quieter moments, you get the sense that Chantler’s hanging on for dear life, speeding towards a destination he’s only partly planned, a kind of audio complement to the studies into Free Will by Libet, who found that hand movements are initiated by the brain just before the brain registers a conscious intent to move.
This takes listening. It won’t be attenuated. If you go with it, there’s a beautiful ugliness about John Chantler’s machines. Coil once claimed (in an interview for Mondo 2000) that their track “Teenage Lightning” was about the “electricity created when you rub two teenagers together”; this is the sound of machine frottage. There will be sparks.