Ital Endgame

[Planet Mu; 2014]

Styles: techno, dance, ambient house
Others: The Orb, Pan Sonic, The KLF, Laurel Halo, Aphex Twin, Sex Worker

Electronica is often presented as a deeply individualistic and personal genus of music, as a set of private abstractions and encrypted structures that gift a musician with the power to hide the secrets of her self in earshot of the whole world. Yet listening to the anonymous techno, speechless dance, and nebulous homogeneity of Endgame, another explanation for this celebrated impenetrability emerges, which is that the genre has now become so “democratized” that almost everyone now sounds more or less like everyone else. This means that, because every producer and his dog has access to much of the same equipment, sonics, and methods, it’s become almost impossible for anyone to generate distinctive works particular to themselves, so that in the end their unique truth can’t be disambiguated from the confused web of truths their music now inadvertently speaks. And despite the fact that Daniel Martin-McCormick’s third album as Ital (rather than as part of Black Eyes or Mi Ami) houses some superbly well-executed throbs of chilled electronica and danceable ambient, it never quite escapes its own submersion in the impersonal sea of relative soundalikes.

For instance, even though “Relaxer” and its hi-hatted whirls of synth eddy to pulsating effect, and even though the incremental massification and velocity of “Coagulate” propel its subconscious techno from one filmy height to the next, the affinities of sound and structure that each shares with countless other tracks imply that electronica is not the attempt to preserve the individual’s singularity behind a wall of solipsistic idiosyncrasy, but rather the attempt to abdicate this singularity in an equalized conformity. It represents the producer’s attempt to dissolve her particular definition and differentiation, and in keeping with this objective, the polymer techno of “Endgame” washes its angular twinkling in generous servings of echo and reverb, the recurring sweeps of electronified haze dissolving any fixed outline it or its author may have once had in a shifting, non-specific matrix.

Consequently, a transfixed run of cavernous, rattling beats like “Whispers In The Dark” merely treats us to the sound of our own uniformity and anonymity, and the same goes for the clockwork “White II,” where motorik percussion drives the metallic squelches and zappings that could’ve come from Bolder, recent Laurel Halo, or The Haxan Cloak just as much as from Ital. And this theme of de-individualization feeds into another claim made of electronica, which is that it’s an inhuman genre, a musical form that strives to replace the warmth of humanity with the cold of technology. The faceless LED melodics of “Beacon” undermines this prejudice; its intoxicating yet indistinct sameness to the Orb, The KLF, Thought Broadcast, and innumerable other acts would support the counter-claim that the unwelcoming anti-individuality of electronic music stems from it being too human, from its readiness to imitate the examples of other people and conform to their ideas of human expression. Moreover, the precise use Martin-McCormick makes of technology in pieces like the appropriately named “Dancing,” where he creates loops of oscillating beeps and shuddering overlays that remain perfectly set on a pre-determined course, indicate that electronica is also too human in an additional regard, since in this case its railed strobing and gelid circularity reflects our inescapable drive to fix the world in our image, to empty it of every accident and contingency that might possibly offend us.

And this harmony between modern technology and humanity should in fact be completely unsurprising, because from the very beginning, the concept of “humanity” has never been anything more than a piece of technology itself. But rather than forging the subdued 4/4 algorithm of “Concussion,” it’s been used to forge people. As a result, “Black Dust” and its controlled oscillations are in fact the consummation of humanity rather than its negation, its unswerving percussion and voiceless pulsations evoking the individual whose strict adherence to code, whose very lack of individuality, is precisely what makes him human. And maybe it’s this vision of a perfected humanity, of mankind transported to its logical conclusion of robotic automation, that makes electronic music and the eerie clicking of “Oche” a little too unpalatable for some of us, so that we’re forced to label the genre as “inhuman” in order to deny the reality of the mirror it holds in front of us. Still, even with these attempts at disassociation, the space for individual autonomy and expression invoked by “Oche” and its winding techno-riff is minimal, with its ceaseless repetition suggesting our inability to change our circumstances at just the same moment its molten vagueness and indeterminacy undermines the sense that we ever inhabited any clearly definable circumstances in the first place.

Which leaves Endgame in both enviable and unenviable positions. On the one side, its swathes of rippling atmospherics and its subtle phrasing close the listener within a hospitable belt of ambient techno, but on the other, this belt hangs severed from any definite identity or significance (being less offbeat and varied than its predecessors), so that there’s nothing to recommend the album over a Selected Ambient Works, a Kulma, or any other member of the extended techno/electronica family. This lack of identity admittedly fuels the indecipherable, entrancing mystery of the album, yet unfortunately this strength also equates to the album’s primary weakness. Hence, even if its arsenal of darkened tones, sonics, and sequences engender a consuming melange of chill-out dance and abstracted techno, these tropes prove so familiar, so ubiquitous, that it never gets around to saying anything about Martin-McCormick that couldn’t be said about anyone else, nor to saying anything that hasn’t already been said before.

Links: Ital - Planet Mu

Most Read