Anthony Child Electronic Recordings from Maui Jungle Vol. 1

[Editions Mego; 2015]

Styles: psychedelic earth, terrestrial techno, fight or flight
Others: M. Geddes Gengras, Lieven Martens Moana, Bill Fontana

Compare the packaging and title of Anthony Child’s newest release with The Space Between People and Things, his 2013 debut under his birth name. The craftsmanship going into The Space Between is obvious and humane: its abstract investigation into force and form reveals Child’s artistic desire to embody that which his music describes, yet its careful planning prevents any such singularity of mind and body. Child seeks unity with the elements, yet the nature of his longing inherently pegs him as something apart, an intelligence among the unthinking.

Meanwhile, the cover of Electronic Recordings from Maui Jungle Vol. 1 is comparatively artless: standard issue type, matching border, photograph of subject, contextual information as the title. If The Space Between existed in the grey area between humankind and wilderness, Electronic Recordings from Maui draws specific lines between the two, illustrating each pole at its most extreme. Yet despite its seemingly documentary-style presentation, this album is anything but. Child’s lush, hard-edged modular synthesizer explorations from deep within the Maui jungle only further subvert the distinction between the technological and the terrestrial.

Although Child’s explorations fit into the mold of other recent Berlin school disciples searching for synthesized bliss, Electronic Recordings from Maui is no album to drift away to. Danger is in the underbrush, a palpable unrest in the air that prevents the calm from sinking in on a conscious level. Take, for example, the opening track “Bypass Default Mode Network,” which rocks back and forth between prickly arpeggios and long stretches of buzzing synth waves; or the appropriately-titled “Watching & Waiting,” which maintains a menacing, stuttering rhythm over a tense six minutes. Both of these tracks are dark creations, yet they achieve a kind of brutalist zen, a captivating and enveloping sense of unease. It brings to mind Wolfgang Voigt’s incredible work under the Gas moniker in the way that Child speaks to the unforgiving, overpowering manner in which nature asserts its presence around us while also carrying an acceptance of it that keeps the music savory in its heightened awareness. The ground may give life as easily as it reclaims it, but to stand in awe of its creation is to know one’s place in all things.

The academic manner in which Child frames Electronic Recordings from Maui is key. Child, ever the surgeon, treats these pieces not as compositions or even as fully-formed concepts, but as studies — “electronic recordings.” Child even includes field recordings in the mix to lend a sense of naturalism to the music. But this is hardly an observational work. Child’s doing all the sonic heavy lifting here, turning Electronic Recordings from Maui into a kind of gonzo exercise in which Child’s music assumes the shape and qualities of the jungle he describes, even as it is Child’s nature that drives the album forward, not the jungle’s. Child imitates nature in many ways: “Down In The Gulch” trickles and splatters like iridescent dew dripping off stalactites; “A New Moon” hangs distant in the air, powerful yet impossible to grasp; “The Way Home” bounces around in unpredictable movements, almost teasing in its free-spirited ballet. However, Child imbues all of these sections with a cold, sharp, undeniably industrial edge, placing sounds that are stereotypically very “unnatural” in a nature-based context, and in doing so allows for a depiction of our environment that includes humanity and intelligence as part of the larger picture of life on Earth.

There is a two-part track in the middle of Electronic Recordings from Maui Jungle Vol. 1 titled “The Chief,” and it is here that Child makes his ultimate thesis statement about human beings. Child’s newest is a work of assimilation, a collection of pieces that capture a certain sense of untameable anarchy that humankind nonetheless fits into, as much as we may try to escape its clutches. Child reasserts our place in the wild, as unwitting observers to a greater cosmic scheme happening constantly all around us, building shelters and instruments and weapons in an attempt to escape the chaos. But as in “The Chief’s” reprise, all sense of order will be washed away in time, and all that will remain is a stillness as calm and infinite as the jungle rain.

Links: Anthony Child - Editions Mego

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