Galvanic Treatment

Unusual record emanating from the Italian avant-DJ quarter…The 8Bit Prometheus (URBSOUNDS URB047 / MFZ RECORDS MFZ09-2019) is credited to three fellows, L’Allievo, DJ Balli, and MC Shell8bit, and is packaged inside a booklet of texts with accompanying cartoon cover art. DJ Balli is Riccardo Balli, and he’s been running a label called Sonic Belligeranza for about 20 years now for releasing his own oddball 12-inchers, and given that they sport zany titles such as Boyscouts-Ravers Must Die! and In Skatebored We Noize!!!, I’ll assume he doesn’t intend to be taken entirely seriously.

The 8Bit Prometheus is an odd mix of jolly chiptune and GameBoy sounds, thrown together with what I would regard as more conventional beats and anonymous synth tones, and themed on ideas of reanimating dead bodies using electricity. To this end, the creators have turned for inspiration to an Italian scientist, Giovanni Aldini, who was active in the 18th and 19th centuries and was a proponent of galvanism. Building on the discoveries of Volta and Luigi Galvani, this practice involved running the juice through dead limbs and other parts of the anatomy, to see if the muscles would wriggle a little; Giovanni Aldini notoriously did it with the body of an executed criminal, in a public display yet, but he also used animal parts such as the head of an ox.

The creators of today’s record are quick to point out that these experiments are supposed to have inspired the Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley – they call the novel “fictional science”, which isn’t strictly accurate, and in any case the Aldini connection is very tenuous – and this may have led to passages from the Shelley novel being read out on the later tracks of The 8Bit Prometheus. At least, I assume that’s the source, or one of them; selected fictional diary entries describing the thoughts of a solitary scientist doing work which is abhorrent to him. These texts are slightly detourned, so as to include numerous in-jokes and references to musical styles and equipment of the DJ trade, so that the reading is collaged and spiked with numerous temporal anomalies. The net result is to liken DJ mixing and track-creation to making a Frankenstein monster, a not very original metaphor, and one which is very over-stretched by the time you get to the end of these 17 tracks. Conceptually it’s a one-joke record, to put it another way.

Still, the record sounds pretty good for the most part; the mix of low-grade electronic sounds with spoken-word narration is surprisingly effective, and there has been some care put into the textual cut-ups which are recited in such deadpan style. Also in the booklet are descriptions of joke “experiments” involving GameBoys and other old Nintendo gear, mixed up with the languages of occult seances and terminology lifted straight from the 18th century. The lo-fi dimension is something they’re proud of; it leads to distortion and break-up of words, as if we’re getting a bad quality Skype call, and adds a frisson of supernatural excitement. The work was originally broadcast on web radio in 2018, and Tobia Maschio did the cover artworks. From 19th February 2020.