Sunday, May 15, 2005


Of course, the real punchline of Richard James' recent "Analord" series of singles is that most of them are actually digitally produced.

I'm surprised that no one's already pointed this out. Maybe they have (I don't have much spare time to surf), in which case, then, this is almost certainly old news.

Oh, come on, don't look so shocked; given James' perverse sense of humour and his uber-nerdish attention to detail it's a totally logical career-move for him to produce a series of near-perfect pastiches of analogue electronic music using digital gear...

The old skool pseudo-analogue sound has been achieved by some very clever EQ'ing (mainly to give more high-end presence to the kick drums, and also to muddy the bottom-end) along with some nifty panning and instrument placement to give a sense that the instruments are coming from somewhere other than just a computer. He's also used tape-saturation plug-ins that simulate a direct-to-analogue-tape sound. Allowing the top-end of some of the acid-squiggle modulation to distort slightly also adds a false sense that the instruments inhabit a 'real' physical space. This illusion is consolidated by the use of some very short delay-times which play tricks on the listener's brain by emulating the sort of ambient 'room-echo' that you would expect if the tracks were being recorded in a medium-sized three-dimensional studio-space.

Listen to a couple of Analord tracks on headphones; it helps strip away some of the trickery: the brain recalibrates 'distances', 'positions', etc and some of the pseudo-accoustic 'maths' no longer add up. The tracks suddenly sound a lot less 'convincing' than through speakers.

James (intentionally?) gives the game away at points by using a digital five-comb filter which has no analogue equivalent, and something that sounds suspiciously like a 'rewind' plug-in. Later in the series, a couple of digital edits stick out like sore thumbs. A clap-trap plays in perfect time with the backing track, despite predating MIDI and having no signal-in trigger (so is probably a sample). The decay on some of the drum wave-forms is very, very slightly clipped, which suggests that they are samples rather than pure signal-out from an analogue drum-box.

That's not to say the project is entirely digital (tho' I'd like to think it is, as that would give the whole series a more rounded, 'conceptual' feel): on a couple of tracks it does sound as if he's taken one or more direct line-outs from his networked PCs and run them through a desk and a favourite outboard reverb, before dumping them onto DAT or minidisk.

As to why he would do this...well, need you ask? James is a master wind-up merchant and this is exactly the sort of jape that he excels at. I mean, why else would he go to the effort of revisiting the sort of music that he was making 12, 13 years ago, unless there was a satisfying personal or conceptual twist to the music? If not, wouldn't that just make the whole project artistically bankrupt? It would be like Hirst chainsawing another shark...why bother, if not for the cash? And James certainly doesn't need the money; he turns down more lucrative remixes, film-work, etc in a single year than most acts get offered in an entire career. He's said on many occasions that he doesn't financially need to work any more; he does it for the have a laugh and prove a point.

Still, James was in danger, like Kraftwerk and Derrick May before him, of becoming a victim of his own legacy; how could he ever produce anything as breathtaking or groundbreaking as his own early records? Once he was the Zeitgeist, but, recently, like Bowie before him, he suddenly seemed somewhere behind it, puffing to keep up ("I know, I'll make a drum and bass record..."). At some point, we all blinked and there was a sudden, seismic paradigm shift in contemporary electronic music: nuts-numbingly virtuosal programming and breakneck Post-Jungle clattering splatter-breaks suddenly seemed Old School and, well, a bit shit to anyone under thirty who hadn't rabidly followed the self-referencing minutae of Da Scene over the last 17, 18 years...

James realised this and there were a number of attempts at rebranding/re-establishing himself as Scene-Leader. His attempts at pure digital noise wonderfully wound up the Techno purists and would have been great if the whole Mego/laptop/digital grain thing hadn't peaked about a year earlier. Ditto: his Concrete stuff; it suffered from the fact that everyone seemed to be doing it at the same time; there was a sense that he no longer stood out from the rest of the pack. Personally, for what it's worth, I thought the Satie-esque MIDI-piano/microphone placement pieces on "Drukqs" worked pretty well and were a way of reintroducing an emotional narrative back into his work that had been sidelined by the almost-onanistic splattertronic pyrotechnics of his more recent work. James' music had reached Melt-down, a Plug-in Apocalypse: musically, he had turned into IDM's answer to the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Sure, stuff like the Richard James Miami Booty Bitch masks was fucking funny, but what it really masked was a hollowness at the heart of the music.

For James, this conceptual twist at the heart of the Analord series might also be a way for him to stave off boredom and stay personally involved while he revisits music that, on the surface, appears to merely access an old, well-used emotional/sonic palette. It's certainly selling in bucketloads...the real plan here, I suspect, is to refill Rephlex's coffers; keep the label afloat and fund the next generation of bedroom boffins, which is something I don't have a problem with...'specially as Rephlex were on the number with their Grime comps...

Tho' it now looks like Mike Paradinas' label has pulled a blinder with this summer's forthcoming Mark One/Virus Syndicate and Vex'd LPs.


Sadly unable to make the annual UK Comic Fest. which is in Temple Meads, Bristol, this weekend, due to childcare committments. Can't really network or pitch stuff with a pram and a bored four-year old in tow, and it's really not fair on the girls to subject them to a couple hour-and-a-half train-rides just so dad can browse through some back issues of Tales of Suspense.

A shame, really; 'cause it's usually a good day out (or weekend, if I stay overnight). Shaky's going this year, and Warren Pleece'll probably be there, and Dylan Teague and Chris Weston...
I was also hoping to say hello to one of my personal heroes, artist Mike Ploog, who, I believe has moved to the UK and is now resident in Devon.

For any Bristolites reading's on 'til sunday evening and well worth checking out.

*Sigh* Hopefully, next year...