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Sculpture – Membrane Pop


Sculpture – Membrane PopI’ve heard it said that for art to truly succeed, it needs to run the risk of failure. If there is no antagonism, if everything is completely predictable, it glides right off of you without making an impression. Compare Tropic Of Cancer to drugstores full of pulp romance, for example. When an art form is rote, completely succumbing to convention and formula, you might be able to appreciate the craftsmanship a bit; but that’s about it.

A lot of what passes for the electronic music industry, such as digital 12″s topping the DJ charts, is just so much anonymous, replaceable commodity filler (and that’s part of it’s attraction and appeal, I realize), with artists sticking to their comfortable niche and BPM. It’s all fine and dandy, except it really hinders electronic music’s original futurist, utopian visions. Perhaps producers are beginning to take the unlimited capacity of synthesizers and rhythm machines for granted, not taking full advantage of their capability to emulate or reproduce any sound in creation or imagination.

But then there’s a lot of what passes for experimental music, underground provocateurs who are pushing the boundaries, redefining what harmonies and rhythms we dance to in private Schoenbergian revolutions to audiences of 12. The “problem”, (or perhaps we shall just call it a fact), is that a lot of experimenters are antagonists, free-noise knob-twiddling John Zorns and Anthony Braxtons and Merzbows. We admire their cavalcade, and their revolutions are essential, but their nonstop, stream-of-consciousness white noise id reverberations will always appeal to a certain kind of human and express only a certain shade of the human experience.

Sculpture, the duo of Dan Hayhurst and live animator Reuben Sutherland, provides an alternative, a middle way; between experimental and pop, between analog and digital, between innovation and refinement. Membrane Pop is made up of disembodied snippets of cut-up cassettes, bleeping radar/sonar electronics, and popping, fizzing drum machines. In a recent interview, Hayhurst claimed, “I want it to be fun, I want it to be exuberant. But I do want to make music that’s quite radical without being dark, and that’s something that I do deliberately.” Instead of being a trek through paranoid cold-war tunnels, or weaving through cavernous, leprous post-apocalyptic beasts, Membrane Pop is like being in an anti-gravity air popper. It is like a laboratory where they design jet packs. It’s like Hot Butter‘s “Popcorn” cut-up in some cyberpunk-juke MPC to be chopped at 3am by DJs with green glowing teeth.

It quite makes sense that Membrane Pop comes out on Oneohtrix Point Never‘s Software Records, continuing their gradual infiltration of daily life with high conceptual art, reflecting the information datastream overload we all experience every day; transmogrifying it into strange and alien constructs.

While Membrane Pop may be friendly, it is not compromising in any way. There is little in the way of hummable melodies or banging beats. Only those aforementioned cyberpunk DJs are going to be spinning this shit, (although I applaud ’em for doing so). It’s not entirely without precedent, and is not an entirely unknown pleasure. The beats remind us of Aphex and Autechre in their glory days, and their synths and melodies are glowing with a ’70s nimbus that owes a nod to the hauntology scene. The handmade, handheld squelching electronics are a part of the Radiophonic Trajectory, coming timely in the wake of Ekoplekz or Hacker Farm and other expert knob twiddlers. Still, Sculpture configure it in their own highly distinctive configuration, re-starting electronic music’s drive into the future. To find sounds we’ve not heard before. To dream unimagined dreams.

In that selfsame interview I mentioned above, Hayhurst described the most perfect, concise digital music manifesto I have yet heard: “Taking a digitally-generated or manipulated material and putting it onto physical machines that are good musical instruments.” He uses experimentation and found sounds as a starting point, to launch his bizarre dancefloor meditations. He’s using samples and making something entirely unique out of it. Jamming with the past. Sculpting something out of the digital detritus around us, letting the dead voices speak. And doing so in a gleeful, exuberant manner. It’s like Sculpture are having a Bachelor Pad Seance, conjuring the ghost of Les Baxter in front of stern Tiki gods. It’s like they’re single-handledly (or with a certain, devout, stubborn few), bringing the feeling of expansion, of exploration, of possibility, of the 1950s, but minus the colonialist shadow. It’s like reaching for the moon. It’s unrealistic, but we can’t ever stop.

-J Simpson-

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