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DJ Sprinkles & Mark Fell
The Complete Spiral EP / Sensate Focus Rory Gibb , May 30th, 2012 07:27

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Well, here's an unexpected match made in heaven. Japan-resident electroacoustic musician, speaker, writer and activist Terre Thaemlitz's DJ Sprinkles project explores the limits, sonic and political, of New York house (most memorably on 2009's already seminal Midtown 120 Blues album). Sheffield's Mark Fell is one half of snd, and has journeyed into the far reaches of sound design, glitch and electronic composition, both as part of that duo and solo. This collaborative 12", featuring three impeccably imagined deep house tracks, highlights a shared ground that might initially not have seemed particularly apparent. The title track, a twelve-minute piece reminiscent of Sprinkles' Kami-Sakunobe House Explosion tracks, melds their two worlds seamlessly: Fell's crystalline melodic artefacts, sprinkled through a Thaemlitz polyrhythmic house beat.

The connection, though, is made more explicit still on opening track 'Say It Slowly (NUM mix)', which is overlaid with a long segment of dialogue from former National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill, from a 2009 speech made on the 25th anniversary of the miners' strike. Much of Thaemlitz's solo work features similarly politically charged spoken word - often her own voice - on issues surrounding gender identity, capitalism and the media. Given that Fell is from an area strongly affected by the fallout from the miners' strike, and especially now that the UK is experiencing another period dominated by a savagely self-involved Tory government, their choice of accompanying dialogue here is telling. It ends as Scargill explains that he later discovered he had been under surveillance, with his phone tapped, since the 50s, "because he was considered a danger to the system" - looping the track's relevance forward to the great upheaval of the current administration: Leveson's exposing of dubious liaisons between international media corporations and politicians.

In the hands of lesser musicians Scargill's inclusion could seem crass. But like much of Thaemlitz's other work - ably assisted here by Fell's translucent sound design - it skirts that problem by setting a very blunt message in the context of music that's far more ambiguous in its intentions. 'Say It Slowly' is set to a churning NY deep house groove, but outside that core structure its outer layers are light and fragile. The voiceover, then, becomes a presence that's not necessarily wholly positive, threatening, as it does, to destabilise the track's functionality at any point. It poses a set of conditions, listeners are left to ponder their relevance.

Fell's re-examinations of the duo's original tracks, recently released on the Sensate Focus 10 12", plunge into the realm of particle physics. Where many dance tracks are content to provide a wide angle view of their workings, the better not to spin clubbers out and distract them from the floor's pumping momentum, his Sensate Focus material instead examine the molecular nature of club music, laying bare the kinetic energy transfer between different components.

In fact, the closed system of A-side 'X' is reminiscent of a Newton's cradle - that desktop five-silver-balls toy beloved of bored executives - albeit one so fiendishly complex it's tough to imagine anyone able to build it in real, 3D space. Once Fell's initial energy input sets it in motion, that momentum keeps the whole thing moving for a full ten minutes with what feels like minimal human intervention. Each new element introduced - notes bright and reflective as mirrors, woody percussion, dissected slivers of human voice - knocks into a host of others around it, disturbing their arcs or sending them bounding through the mix to activate others in turn.

Sensate Focus 5, its follow-up, is fundamentally very similar: it's built of the same glassy tones and continually reshuffles itself, like some yet-to-be-created future form of self-organising architecture. On this 12"s A-side (again titled 'X'), whose jitterbug percussion touches on garage and electro, core melodies provide anchor points, keeping everything grounded as orbiting strands of percussion try, in vain, to knock it them of whack. B-side 'Y' finds threads of dialogue weaving their way around the mix, but they're elusive, slipping away into the backdrop almost as soon as they've emerged. A comparative snip at nine-and-a-half minutes, it's the shortest of the Sensate Focus tracks so far - they generally run into longform, the better to show off their self-perpetuating properties - and ends in zero gravity, with a series of pillow soft notes that spit through the air like rain.

There's something almost yogic about the careful flow of energies and overall balance of these takes on club music. Indeed, the project's name feels like both summary and conceptual basis, perfectly matching them music's tactile and teasing nature - sensate focus being a practice of sexual restraint that purports to heighten sensation by spreading concentration outward across the entire body's surface. Turn up loud, breathe slowly and deeply, and try to track a single element as it bobs and weaves around your field of hearing.