In his awesome Electric Eden, Rob Young writes: “In an age of rapid and unstoppable change, nostalgia and revivalism often flourish: they offer the solace of permanence and stability in a world whose certainties seem to be slipping away.” It’s a seductive statement, and Brain Pulse Music — framed by its creator as an elegy for the victims of the 3/11 catastrophe — provides us with more evidence of its verisimilitude.
If, as The Economist argues, the real price of the damage wrought by the triple threat tsunami - earthquake - meltdown is political rather than economical in character, then what Batoh offers us here is a snapshot of a despondent, acousmatic psychogeography — a grief-stricken poetics wherein the blank nirvana-impulse of the Shinto rite of chinkonsai jars against the bleeding-edge caterwaul of his BPM machine. For all its spiritual baggage, Batoh offers us the same knowing urbanite alienation that animates Burial’s Kindred or Black Is Beautiful.
A rattled equilibrium grasps only dichotomies. Just as chinkonsai seeks restoration from disruption, a quintet of “Kumano” codices seek stillness from motion in a susurrus of kagura suzu and wind chimes. As the title of the series suggests, there is a dynamism to these tintinnabulations that recalls the whorls and eddies of non-human flows, a buffeting by the winds on the first and fifth codex, rainfall’s nonlinear repetitions on the third and fourth. Although plaintive shō drones and shakuhachi calls return us to the site of the body, there is a lingering sense that, in attempting to deal with the concatenation of the human and the non-human, Batoh has been led towards the notion of a non-automatic music that dispenses with humans altogether, the product of a shadow world where cheerless kami mourn in whispers.
More complicated are the two tracks composed around the widely-fêted Brain Pulse Machine. “Eye Tracking Test” is the more straightforward of the two, a sinister combination of modular glissandi and feedback-thrum bringing to mind a calmer setting of Gil Melle’s ear-scorching Andromeda Strain soundtrack. Stripped of the context of its hardware, it’s barely remarkable, almost harmless. “Aiki No Okami,” by contrast, is unhinged — Spike Milligan’s “Q5 Piano Tune” wrenched out of a modular synthesizer — sawtooth spaghetti tangling into an unstable clomp, Batoh shouting tremolo prayers through a homebrewed ‘plasma’ theremin. Confounding it may be, but the weight given to the premise was always likely to skewer its reception. Brain Whistles Froese is a nice headline, but if all the gimcrackery was in aid of results readily available elsewhere, the charge of pointlessness would be easily made.
There will be those who say that “Aiki No Okami” goes too far in the other direction, that Brain Pulse Music suffers as a result, that the whole’s awed, melancholy restraint is attenuated by this sliver of vagarious choler. Nobody, they will argue, buys a ticket to witness a demonstration of time travel in order to attend a series of lectures on birdsong. That it takes the promise of time travel to open the ears of a wider public to the subtle skronk of birdsong is a sadness that will pass them by.