It’s the sound of a guitar chord quietly decaying, cut up and put back together; of layers of static and feedback filling in the stretches of silence between each note. It’s the sound of tiny ideas stretched into 10-minute long passages of arpeggios and piano keys, pulled apart and remade by clicks on a computer.
Technology in music is often over-used: the seventies saw Strats being strangled and thrashed and turned into instruments for sub-Hendrix fret-wanking; in the eighties, cheap synths smeared their tinny whine all over the airwaves and in the nineties, Moby samples some dead black musicians, sells the tracks to car companies and makes millions.
So when we get bored of seven-minute-long stadium rock guitar solos, or the same five notes and hi-hats on some gone-tomorrow dance track, or some bald-headed studio geek turning another man’s work into high street muzak, then we go to the other extreme; turn our backs on technology and scour the globe (well, Detroit and New York at least) for albums recorded in a tin can by musicians with such a lack of talent or subtlety that they might as well be operating heavy machinery.
Then, somewhere in the middle, there are people like Andrew Coleman. Sure, Demons is an electronic record, but it’s one which uses his laptop as a tool for exploring the possibilities of organic instruments – wondering what happens when simple guitar patterns are exposed to drone and dissonance, or when jarring synthetic rhythms meet the hard ebony of a piano key.
For what is essentially an experiment – and most electronic music is – the results are not only very positive, but frequently beautiful. The title track begins with a slow fade-in of sparse acoustic guitar above an undertow of bubbling feedback, as if it is the guitar itself which is summoning those sounds. As the piece progresses, those effects begin to boil over, obscuring the music and allowing a kind of sonic tug-of-war to unfold between the two sounds.
It’s also a trick that works perfectly well in reverse, as Fight or Flight allows a set of abrupt, nervous-sounding, painstakingly-programmed bleeps and whirrs to eventually give way to a jumble of ambience, echo and acoustics. What’s impressive about the five tracks on this album isn’t the way he’s lined a set of samples up on Pro-Tools, it’s how Coleman has made it seem so natural; how each track ebbs and flows around an organic base and how the only real manipulation comes in his slowly transforming musical samples to see what new sounds they create.
A victory of subtle sound-scaping over both neanderthal musicianship and sterile, laboratory-made beat-making, Demons is a record that relishes what can be done when the digital deconstructs the natural, offering a refreshing third way to all those working at the extremes.
8Neil Robertson's Score