Roly Porter Third Law

[Tri Angle; 2016]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: past projections of distant future, present projections of foreseeable future, meditations on the present
Others: Raime, KTL, Kuedo, Emptyset

In the past, there were strands of electronic music that invoked distinct images of the future. No matter where this music was produced, links to cinematic experiences of a similar theme were often responsible for aesthetic choices, which helped fuel the public imagination as to what might be expected in years to come. In music, these visions were often influenced by the electronic beat — a power-driven thump that mirrored the workings of a machine, of production, of progress. I’m thinking of early-to-mid-90s techno here, where percussive elements drove that distinction in a way that allowed other instrumentation, such as gliding synths or sci-fi effects, to achieve comparable ends (intended or otherwise), but only as accompanying measures.

But the beat continues to instill visions of the future. Perhaps that’s because of the subjective affiliation with progress and its association with speed when taking production values into account. Some might mark this simplistic depiction positively and veer their artistic tendencies toward sonic illustrations of a brighter tomorrow, while others might focus more on the questionable repercussions and venture toward a darker, deeper aesthetic.

These are easy subject areas to slip into when listening to Roly Porter’s new album, Third Law, because of how immersive and calculated the music feels within this context. There are percussive elements, sure, but when they occur, they often signify a moment of reprieve from a cascading buildup or desolating fallout. The palette that’s used to achieve this ultimately feels futuristic in some way, perhaps via the traces of Porter’s own enthusiasm for films such as 2001 and Dune, which remain flecked throughout his current output, but are also deeply embedded in his back catalogue.

Previous to his solo output, Porter worked with Jamie Teasdale (a.k.a Kuedo) in producing tunes under their Vex’d moniker. Together, the Bristol-based duo crafted blackened dubstep in the heyday of Burial and Kode9 that put genre forerunners to shame as their music went against all levels of a rapidly mutating convention. Teasdale and Porter were keen to assume a soundtrack for some futuristic setting, noting Bladerunner, Ghost in the Shell et al. as influences, and their output for Planet Mu was critically acclaimed as a consequence. Porter’s solo work alludes to similar themes, but he also makes a huge stylistic diversion; as far as tempo is concerned, Third Law treads a similar path as Kyle Bobby Dunn and KTL, but it continues to feel futuristic in its beat-less state while encouraging meditation on the part of the listener.

In Matthew Phillips’s incredible year-end piece on what he describes as a neofuturist aesthetic, he discussed NON artists Angel Ho and Chino Amobi, as well as M.E.S.H. and Elysia Crampton, in their varying styles. Phillips spoke about the way in which they encourage a “[suggested] new reading of human relationships with technology and a new approach to the possibilities available to our species.” Through their music, these artists are distorting past perceptions of what we might have expected from the future through an artistic lens and are highlighting instead the emotional connect that we can presently use to shape our destiny as individuals.

From this perspective, Porter’s music seems equally relevant when discussing the contortion of those past perceptions, those beat-driven projections of the future. Only with Third Law, that’s more of an aesthetic preference (or a departure from a previous style) than an intention to predict or to create soundtrack-specific music. Porter has talked before about how he enjoys long-form metal and about the ability of music to carry the listener into another headspace while engulfed in a specific sound world. This therefore points to a suggested act of meditation or contemplation as opposed to explicitly highlighting the possibilities that exist in adapting our relationship with technology in its current state. This is surely an act that’s dependent on the listener’s interpretation, but with Third Law, we are granted a superb platform for such transcendence.

On playback, the pensive environment crafted on Third Law is grand, but also quite demanding. It feels as though Porter has created a environment specifically for deep thought on both micro (every day life) and macro (gravitational collapse) levels, while at the same time creating an adverse mood. The sounds that he generates are sweeping, but they are typically void of synths and come bound in harsh feedback, grinding static (see the album’s defining track, “Mass”), and choral vocals that sound like they have been sucked backward through a vortex. To be able to think in this arena is a daunting prospect in itself, and Porter is aware of that. “I really get nervous when a tune of mine passes the twelve minute mark”, he told FACT in an interview about his previous release, Life Cycle of a Massive Star. That nervousness is surely felt by his audience as well, as they are confronted with dark soundscapes that gravitate toward sonic portrayals of gigantic size and proportion, where preponderance lies solely in the wake of the images Porter is creating. The experience is often overwhelming, and if it weren’t for the technical prowess of the artist in sculpting these sounds, then it would also be far too overbearing.

When taking the scope of the album into consideration, it comes as a pleasant surprise that the wildest moments on here are destined to be discovered in the tiniest of details, where distorted wind instruments are cut with gritty volume increase and thundering bass on “Blind Blackening” and the shuddering pulse of “In Flight,” as it’s split apart by metallic clashes and static burns. It provokes a reactive cocktail of admiration and fear, which is often followed by an involuntary quiver; there is no doubt that the effects causing such responses have been carefully planned and triumphantly executed by a musician only too pleased to spend all the time in the world in deriving the desired impact.

But if the regular beat patterns that are intentionally absent in Porter’s work are what constitute the central driving factor in alluding to some distant future, why does Third Law still carry such intrepid connotations? The answer is certainly subjective, in that there remains a distinct resemblance to machinery and gargantuan objects within each composition, and although there are a number of arrangements and sequences that point to even a post-human landscape, they are brought about by inducing feelings of dread and distress as opposed to progress. The meditative scope that Porter creates is therefore essential to the provocation of any futuristic association by virtue of its context — the conquering centerpiece of “Departure Stage,” for instance, or the quieted recoil of “In System.” But by focusing on his aesthetic and retaining an interest in the possibilities that exist within slow music while setting himself time limitations, Porter has created a record that is as bold and as breathtaking as we might have ever hoped for, regardless of the projection it is set to generate.

Links: Roly Porter - Tri Angle

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