To paraphrase Nietzsche: Suppose truth is an actress — what then? Then, truth is an art, a role played for an audience of philosophers, or, as Nietzsche imagines in The Gay Science, a sort of striptease: Life’s “greatest charm” is its teasing play of appearances, putting “a gold-embroidered veil of lovely potentialities over itself, promising, resisting, modest, mocking, sympathetic, seductive.” In this “play of truth,” Jacques Lacan would later write, “truth teaches her lovers her secret: that it is in hiding that she offers herself to them most truly.” Likewise, we come to know Actress’ songs on R.I.P as much through what is hidden from us as through what is revealed. On his masterful third album, Actress perfects a thrilling sonic aletheia that simultaneously reveals and conceals, opens and closes, remembers and experiences anew, giving some insight into the truth of post-rave electronic music as it has developed over the past 20 years, into both frame and artwork, stage and actress.
Actress’ previous LPs Splazsh and Hazyville were undoubtedly impressionistic, but on this album, a curtain seems to have almost completely descended over Actress’ deconstructed techno. Upon further listening, however, this curtain sounds more like Nietzsche’s teasing veil of truth, playfully exchanging background and foreground, as in the magnificent “Raven,” on which the percussion is nearly erased; instead, the restless piano figures and sampled flutes are framed by a hazy sonic architecture of sampled hiss. The background is also pulled into the foreground of “Ascending,” which has at its core a techno loop from which the amplitude peaks have been chopped off; it is all arrested attack — the song never actually ascends, or if it does, it is with the buoyancy of a drowning person finally giving in. As far as I can tell from the album artwork and Honest Jon’s presskit, the album’s title is properly punctuated “R.I.P” (with no period after the “P”), or as rendered by Actress on a March 26 tweet:
Arr . eye . pee
In subtracting the period and spelling the letters of his title phrase phonetically, the title brings to the foreground the grammatical machinery of spelling and punctuation that usually clatters away in the background of language, providing us a way to hear the songs like “The Lord’s Graffiti” and “Caves of Paradise,” in which foreground and background are more clearly delineated than on the rest of the album. On “Caves of Paradise,” the percussion is clear and fully fleshed-out, subject only to slight phase effects, as opposed to most of the songs, which, if they have a percussive element, have only a muffled kick. The most striking sonic element of this track lurks in the background: a lifeless, flattened vocal sample that punctuates the track’s beat like the inconclusive periods in the album’s title.
With the title of R.I.P, Actress invites imagery of decomposing recordings. Previous LP Splazsh seemed constructed out of the materials underfoot when waiting outside the club: a waterlogged collage of train tickets, cigarette butts, and club flyers — techno recordings as assembled by Kurt Schwitters. As opposed to the collages of Splazsh, this album is more like the Merzbau, a highly personal construction in space. For Heidegger, art creates a temple in which the teasing truth can both hide and come into view: “The building encloses the figure of the god, and in this concealment lets it stand out into the holy precinct of the open portico. By means of the temple, the god is present in the temple.” Actress muses in an interview with Self-Titled, that “I make my music in a space which is thinking about all the sounds I’ve heard over the years and that’s it, really.” On R.I.P, Actress evokes the space of his recording with an old dub trope; much of the sounds from this album seem to come from a distant source, booming up concrete stairs and across the face of alley puddles. The beats from “Shadow from Tartartus” and “Marble Plexus” sound to be coming from inside a club while you wait outside — the vertiginous sounds within reduced to buzzing, distorted bass and the distant thud of a kick drum. All of the euphoria is happening somewhere else. Actress has said that this album was inspired by Paradise Lost, and R.I.P indeed evokes a Jardin of Eden, but it also reminds us that Eden is securely locked.