Monday, March 18, 2013

Woebot calls it a day / Ekoplekz keeps on keeping on

 Woebot winds it up with a compact final statement: the Woebiotic EP.  
With this vinyl 4-tracker, Woebot completes a circle, or a near-circle. No guitar; barely any voice (it appears on one track, heavily masked by vocoder, such that it's barely detectable as voice). No songs or lyrics. Instead, four electronic instrumentals, mostly made using analogue synth
But it's not a complete return to Automat and East Central One, because there's little in the way of  "appropriative collage" going on here (if there are any samples here, they don't announce themselves as samples).  Woebiotic is basically an IDM record. This is the Woebot who's the world's #1 Black Dog fanatic. This is the Matthew Ingram who penned a surprising appreciation of Autechre in a recent issue of The Wire.   
The first side, featuring "Nothing Is Happening" and "Blogger," faintly recalls early Mike Paradinas or the Analord series (it's a very un-digital record, in fact). But it also vaguely brings to mind BEF's Music for Stowaways and the early Human League (those hissing hi-hat sounds, like sculpted bursts of pink noise).  Better still is the second side, containing "Rain" (which could be a great lost track by LFO or  XON) and "Tolls", with its etched-out-of-ice bell-tones and piercing threnodic tingles.
As the titles indicate, the mood overall is pensive and somewhat glum. Appropriate for a valedictory release, maybe, but probably there's more going on that. On the EP's paper insert, the song titles come with explanatory / evocative descriptions:  "Nothing is Happening" ("deflated rave opus"), "Blogger" ("diaristic alpine dirge"), "Rain" ("english monsoon season") and "Tolls" ("for thee").  This is electronic music for withdrawn inward contemplation, not gregarious getting-down. 

Matt himself says the EP is based around the notion of  "the electronic home studio as a kind of neural network...  McLuhan-ish ideas about how nerve signals are electronic... I'm fascinated with the way in which analog synthesis works by mimicking the way that the vocal folds work."

The e-communique announcing Woebiotic a few week ago closed with the open-ended "what's next? not nothing", while the EP insert's own farewell line is "Onwards into the music!", hinting that while there will be no more releases he might may well be making things not for public consumption.  I half-hope Matt "does a Woebot", i.e. goes back on his own vow and restarts the project, like he did several times with all those blogs of his. But maybe it really is time to move on.
(You can buy Woebiotic here.) 

It's strange when blogger pals end up joining the company of your favourite musicians. I mean, just because they know a lot about music and have strong opinions about it, it doesn't mean they're capable of generating stuff that's any cop. 

Been thinking about this recently not just because of Woebot's end-of-the-journey EP but because of Nick Edwards (formerly known as the blogger Gutterbreakz, now increasingly well-known as the musician Ekoplekz) and who shows absolutely no sign at all of stopping. Over the last two or three years he's churned out a torrent of music, pretty much all of it really superb.

Just readily to hand I've got something like 11 separate works by Nick - LPs, EPs, collaborative albums--plus a bunch of guest mixes done for sites like Pontone (mostly featuring his own music). Somewhere tucked away amongst all my stuff there's an early CD-R and a cassette (attic tapes, really, rather than the Oeuvre Proper)But there's a heap more limited-edition tape things he's done for micro-labels that I've not got, plus composite identity projects like Ekoclef(Go on, have a boggle at his discography). And there's more coming, constantly -- a new record from his Ensemble Skalectrik identity, Trainwrekz, is due out via Editions Mego at the end of April  

Compared with the shifts and leaps Woebot went through, what's striking about Nick's work is how fixated it is -- it's one big, heaving, writhing, gnarly body of "changing same". Yet I don't get tired of it. I've actually tried to listen all the stuff I had in one go, made a folder of it and clicked "play all". I ran out of day before I finished it. But I never got bored with it. It's more-ish, this sound.

Also striking is the recognisability of the musical voice: this is his sound, the furrow that he ploughs obsessively. His private zone is a triangular hinterland at the borders of which lie genres that exert a gravitational pull on him but together serve to cancel each other, so that he stays within a sort of no man's land. Which is actually One Man's Land. 

     One side of the triangle is, loosely, industrial (although actually it's quite specific: early Cabaret Voltaire (I say "loosely industrial" because I never really thought of the Cabs as "industrial").   


Another side: the outer fringe of hauntology (hence the alliance, or rather merger, with Mordant Music as eMMplekz for the awesome IZOD Days) . Although really any affinity with H-ology is mostly through  shared love of Radiophonia and obscure DIY Anglotronica (see "Dick Mills Blues"). 

And then the third side: dubstep's own moody-atmospheric fringe, Shackleton and so forth.

(I suppose there might also be a third-and-a-half side to this triangle: enough pure hard techno in his DNA to converge with Perc Trax)

Yet another characteristic of Nick's thing is that unlike so much of the stuff coming out of the Zones these days, it doesn't really require conceptual propping up.  It bypasses intellectualisation, works on a basic visceral level of "this shit sounds great". In that sense--as the flexing, extension, and perpetuation of a musical voice, it's as pure and direct as a group like AC/DC.  You listen and you can hear the satisfaction it's giving him to make these sounds, which appear to involve the physical manipulation of favorite machines much more than the digital moving-around of sound objects on a screen. 
Nick also, it must be noted, finally, has a great way with a title e.g. Mildew Riddims, "Working Men's Dub", "Terror / Danger"