In the eyes of many human beings, electronic dance music seems to be considered a unique and special phenomenon. Although the genre may seem highly homogenous from an alien perspective, to the human, it is celebrated for bearing a rich and complex biosphere with intense flows of energy and materials — a meshwork of bizarre sonic deviations overlapping as a deafening system.
There’s some truth to this belief. Italian electronic producer and composer Lorenzo Senni studies these flows with an obsessive interest and optimism — an optimism clearly evident on previous efforts — specifically on the sober, sharp Quantum Jelly and his radiant debut Superimpositions. With Persona, he makes a distinct step into a more wide-eyed setting, accelerating his method past the collegiate obscurity of his previous work to bring his particular style of compositional idealism to an unclear and unexpected public. The EP follows an interesting production path that’s perhaps a bit too altruistic for the academic tone of many of his peers. Yet observant listeners might have noticed the way Senni was suffusing the stylings and chimerizations of artists like Florian Hecker and the Editions Mego canon with the antics of his label Presto!?, which concurrently released work from John Wiese, EVOL, and Lawrence English alongside DJ Stringray and Theo Burt. In particular, the label captured Senni’s spirit of pairing concept-forward new music with works celebrating and experimenting with genre, a knack shown adeptly with his solo work, his support of Aaron David Ross’s gorgeous and belligerent work (particularly Gatekeeper’s Young Chronos), and Stargate, his own free-culture jamming enterprise.
Given his early advocacy of this sort of compassionate experimentalism, one might have seen the major label debut of his philanthropic style coming; and, in particular to 2016, Senni finds common ground with the hybrid “dance” works of the recent PAN(theon) catalog and the ecstatic trance palettes of Lars Holdhus and 0comeups Even with all this context, Senni’s debut on Warp comes as a surprise. Persona is a work wholly deserving of such a major stage as an enduring effort to collapse and incisively observe the grisly scene of 2016 electronic music and its restless sonic constituency. More than any aesthetic angle or hashtag (#RaveVoyeurism, #PointillisticTrance), Senni’s music resounds from within an active scene of studious, playful, and serious music lovers — precisely the sort of of ecology that yields music both critical and joyous.
Persona’s use of Ed Atkins’s art as a visual backdrop emphasizes Senni’s loose, hyperreal voyeurism that approaches a form of criticism — a riff on Atkins’s deeply conceptual manipulation of stock-material to get at, in Joe Luna’s commissioned words for an Atkins monograph book, “The suck and the bloom of death and decay […] channeled through technological tools at the height of contemporary image management.” Rather than decay, Senni’s technical image management stems from a profound vitalism rooted in the distinct human need to zero-out from self-organizational processes to approach further repetition and abstraction — the organic gene splicing of music such that it’s conceptual and functional material are indistinguishable. In other words, Persona is voyeuristic out of a deep love of the music it may reference, emphasizing a basic humanity just as pertinent to the music’s original intention “in the club,” so to speak. That need is for observation, the celebration of form, those bookish and excitable tendencies that form chemical bonds between friends and strands of niche culture (book clubs, blogs, record stores). In ways, this is what allows Senni’s work to resonate with his description of his straight-edge Hardcore background in a rural Italian counterculture. Persona is a sort of critical music for folks who love music and all that it does for a community, even if, in the case of his work, the community is one built on celebrating both the visceral and meta qualities that electronic music concurrently and easily provides. This is a music that obsessively celebrates and virtually ignores culture entirely.
Persona’s MIDI-patterns outline the genetic code of Senni’s genre studies, visually mapping their genotype to reveal the very structural and functional properties of their form. In this way, Senni is indeed a voyeur — but he is also an addict, not on the chemicals that manipulate or enhance the way the code is perceived, but through the obsessive mental pace that threads his music with its accelerative and deeply focused presence. Off the bat, the pace is set with “Win In The Flat World,” an ecstatic ballad that emerges with a pulsing core of optimistic melody — simultaneously extending and quickening its form to where the narrative time of trance’s usual formula is flattened. “Rave Voyeur” takes a greater interest in spacious layering, as the track’s back-half lets fluttering saw-waves and plucks meander around each other before an essential arpeggiation allows a finale-like, euphoric bass “drop” — a moment usually avoided entirely in his compositions. Further, “emotiva1234” serves as the EP’s triumphant center-jewel, a track with a presence that bumps with the stutter-like presence of a pristine, elated grime beat. Easily one of the most repeatable and infectious tracks of year, I hope it serves as house music in between both punk and dance sets alike — across basements, clubs, and galleries.
In an odd way, Senni’s work is similar to Sunn O)))’s radical and intense love for a music community, practice, and genre — in the latter case, black metal, a role that allows the artist to participate wholly in a culture yet remain distinctly abstract from it, simultaneously studying it and contributing to its discourse. Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s work reaches far beyond the iconic black cloaks, extending into the far-flung corners of bass experimentalism, edifying their scholarly approach. Similarly, Senni sets an affirmational standard for the way music is constantly overlaid with the cultures, qualities, and lives that participate within it, an ever-more complex economy at this stage of contemporary music production. This affirmation explores the formal mechanics that make the genre work in the first place; yet, perhaps more pertinently, Persona has a deeply oscillating, emotional core that is within and without the study taking place — that odd place of human vitality and sentiment in any scholarly, observational method. As such, Senni’s forlorn, skyward “Angel” recalls most tenderly his work on Quantum Jelly, albeit with a more distinctly enchanted tone. A near trance-dirge, the piece brims with a quiet empathy. It’s this empathy that contrasts heavily with what may seem like his constrictive genre experiments. Yes, Senni’s method acts as a constraint on trance, but only to tease out its molten form from active and morphogenetically pregnant sonic material, from those flows of energy, those nutrients manifesting themselves as a crystalline code temporarily abstract from its ecosystem, oscillating for a moment only to manifest through it farther and further.