Lifeless Cyber Future

From Province RI, here’s Mark Cetilia, the sound artist who uses digital and analogue technology and who produced minimal, filtered sound art on his Impact + Aftermath record back in 2013, released on his own Estuary Ltd label.

He’s here today with The New Way (MORE RECORDS MORE036), a double LP of electronic sound, where I think the underpinning concept is to do with “generative systems”. The story of it is that he went to a performance space / art gallery / recording studio in Rhode Island called Machines With Magnets, and proceeded to occupy it for several hours – just him and his devices, plus all the rooms (walls, windows, doors) were miked up so they could capture every blast and billow from his feedback loops and processors. It was an “improvisatory” performance, and though he does like doing it in front of an audience of human beings, for this occasion he liked the idea of replacing the audience with a bunch of empty rooms. Some seven hours of recordings have been selected, edited and presented on this set, although he still found enough material that pleased him to fill up both sides of a double LP. In making these selections, he wore his DJ hat – picking only those sounds which he might use in some future live gig. As a finishing touch, he named all the tracks after prescription drugs – or rather, cut-ups of syllables from the names of such drugs, resulting in clinical-sounding nonsense such as ‘Benzaplex’ or ‘Novexafed’. Even here he didn’t do anything so prosaic as pick up a pair of scissors and an old pharmaceutical manual, but instead used software to do the scrambling for him.

As to the music, I found it unengaging, uneventful, and pointless; too much process, not enough composition, and no sense that the material was organised in any way. Occasionally he stumbles across some vaguely interesting textures or juxtapositions, but doesn’t exploit them or harness them in the context of a compositional dynamic; it seems the generative systems must prevail. In one sense, it’s another example where the machines are playing the musician, and if the future does indeed comprise this form of “cybernetic entity” as he claims, it’s not a very positive development. He claims the record “pulses and pumps with visceral life”, but all I can discern are a few twitches, dreary drones, and stereotyped mannerisms. (07/07/2022)

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