Thought broadcasting — the involuntary transmission of your thoughts to other people. Of all the symptoms of schizophrenia, the conviction that you’re helplessly and indiscriminately surrendering your own stream-of-consciousness to everyone around you is possibly the most instructive when it comes to our age of ubiquitous and intrusive media. Because just as thought broadcasting differs from telepathy to the extent that it removes the selectivity of the latter, the Internet Age differs from epochs of face-to-face communication to the extent that it renders the individual’s emissions globally and inevitably available to anyone with the technological means of reception. So what was once a delusion characteristic of a mental illness has now become an allegory for our present era, one that casts us as suffering from collective schizophrenia insofar as we apprehend that we ultimately have no control over who receives our communiqués and what is done with them.
According to the Editions Mego press release for Votive Zero, Ravi Binning has apparently set himself the task as Thought Broadcast of undermining this disturbing state of affairs. Constructing what is now three albums of apocryphal electronica that pound obscurely through bleary textures and smoggy atmospheres, he’s served us hush-hush pneumatic burrs that prepare for the likelihood of their uncontrollable and universal dissemination by making themselves as occult as possible. And Votive Zero does little to excuse itself from this mission, its name suggesting a desire to offer nothing that might be commandeered and comprehended by higher powers for their inscrutable ends.
Yet while we can herald tracks like opener “Anonymous Index” as unreadable fogs of sonar-pulsing and rushing air that confound the admirably quixotic aim of assigning everything a name, place, and function within the structures that define us, we could just as easily flip things over and argue that its secretive beating is as much about the uncertainty, unknowability, and doubt that follows whenever your own pronouncements are open to those for whom they were never intended. Its obdurate ambiance streams with the apprehension that, because your every digitized act is being relayed to people whose existence you aren’t even aware of, the interpretation of these acts and the being they confer is way beyond your knowledge and influence. And if “Anonymous Index” initiates such a misgiving, pieces like the murkily insistent “Runaway Signal” take things further with their percussive smudges and scrapings to reveal a shadowy world in which the individual is estranged from his own language, afflicted by a radical insecurity as to what his own speech, writing, and cognition means in practical terms.
This nebulous imprecision of Votive Zero is often pretty remarkable, since a generous portion of the album sounds like Binning has simply recorded the workings of a machine as it inexorably goes about its self-contained and strictly-defined business. “Words For The Living” features an underlying whirr and overlying patter that aren’t at all dissimilar from the hum of a conveyor belt and the bobbing of pistons, while the sheet-metal noise of “7/13/2013” sounds like the chafed gears of some colossal mechanism. With these prolonged industrial vignettes, it’s tempting to regard Thought Broadcast as portraying “the machine” in its broadest sense, as representing some totalized, all-encompassing order that can’t be circumvented or altered by those unfortunate enough to be trapped within it. But what’s impressive is that, notwithstanding the chiming fixity and clanging persistence of a “Forged Body,” Binning’s delicate employment of echo, reverb, and distortion endows such automated, looping engines with a smeary formlessness, their uni-directional yet daubed edges leaving it an open enigma as to what they and the machines they impersonate are actually doing with us.
Which suits us just fine, since for all the masses of text devoted to “the system” and “the machine” (and Lord knows I’ve done nothing to abate the accumulation of such text), not a single paragraph, book, or discourse possesses the exhaustive omniscience that such reassuringly facile concepts imply. Tracks like the mysteriously primitive “Wanderer Dub” are no doubt the product of interacting elements that tradition encourages us to reify as such a “system,” yet the amorphousness of its unnerving rattle and elusive zapping suggest that there always remains something beyond the all-too limited set of objects we can be conscious of at any one time, something that makes a mockery of the pretension that the world we experience as social animals constitutes a closed-system, a machine that can be wielded to obtain certain predictable ends and benefits.
And the mention of predictability brings this all full circle, back to the notion of a Thought Broadcast that’s transmitted without control or foresight. Votive Zero is just such a broadcast, and as much as Ravi Binning might have wanted to guarantee that his third album fell into the hands only of those most attuned to his way of thinking, I have to go on record and say that for all the intrigue of his project’s guiding concept, and for all the absorption of the album’s cavernous thrumming and secretive textures, the album is sometimes a little too repetitive of itself and its predecessor to be consistently rewarding. Then again, I’m only one of the innumerable people who it will unavoidably reach, so who I am to say what John and Jane Doe are going to think about it. Sadly, I can’t intercept their thoughts just yet. Or can I?