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Surgeon
From Farthest Known Objects Bob Cluness , February 5th, 2016 09:00

When it comes to thinking of space and the farthest reaches of the galaxy, we still tend to think in rudimentary human terms. This leads to all sorts of sentimental mush like Interstellar (or It's A Wonderful Life in 5th dimensional space) positing the idea that love is the greatest force in the cosmos. The reality, according to those who spend their time looking at the skies, is that any communication with an advanced life-form will be much more complex and mathematical, almost certainly the dominant life force consisting of hyperaccelerated AI architectures providing near infinite levels of processing power to machines that long ago shed simplistic organic matter.

While scientists and philosophers speculate on whether such life-forms exist, some musicians have long tried to create models of music that can communicate with the alien in space. From the space warping sounds of Jeff Mills with his albums Waveform Transmissions Vol. 1 and X-102 Discovers The Rings Of Saturn, to Roly Porter's blending of granular precision and cosmic expanse with his recent albums Life Cycle Of A Massive Star and Third Law, electronic music, and especially techno, has long dreamed of achieving the required escape velocity to break from orbit, to conceive the mysteries of dark matter, and commune with the other artificial life forms out there.

With his 7th album, From Farthest Known Objects, Anthony Child, aka techno producer Surgeon, seeks to reach out to those austere corners of space that we can barely conceive. Long seen as an innovator in techno circles, his music well known for its demanding precision, weaving together a medley of foreboding textures that inserts the listener into a system of robotic affect and intensities of brutalist pleasure. But in the last couple of years, Child has experimented more with modular synths and ambient soundscapes, an exploration resulting in immersive 3 hour ambient sets at festivals, releasing tracks of minimalist expanse in 2013's The Space Between People And Things, and in 2015's Electronic Recordings From Maui Jungle Vol. 1, generating a modular communion with nature that blended tonal harmonics with field recordings from the Hawaiian jungle.

According to Child, the process for making From Farthest Known Objects took him back into the domain of techno, albeit down a different path that was exploratory, almost arcane. While experimenting on new configurations with his hardware, the resulting sounds and noises made were so unusual that instead of making music, Child came to the conclusion that his production equipment was in fact "some kind of elaborate reception device that allowed me to tune into transmissions from distant galaxies". After a frantic recording session, Child consulted with astrophysicist and part time frequency alchemist and collaborator Dr Andy Reid, who gave Child the possible locations for the origins of such mysterious sounds, all of them quasars and galaxies billions of light years from earth.

Unlike the gliding psychedelic meticulousness and fractal unfolding of rhythm heard in Surgeon's 2011 album Breaking The Frame, From Farthest Known Objects follows a more embryonic model. Aside from the anchor of the classic 4/4 kick, there's not much else here that you can pin down as tropes of the techno form. The sounds from transmissions such as, 'EGS-zs8-1' and 'SXDF-NB1006-2' are positively alien in composition. Whooshing slabs of noise hewn from low end frequencies provide the raw material base for simple loops that interlock with each other into increasingly complex forms. Layered on top are creeping, gargling textures that circle your brain like self-replicating machines attempting to communicate with Earth.

Despite such motifs, there are tracks that at some points have traces of humanoid history in them. 'z8GND5296' has a positively martial glam stomp aspect that resembles the Dr Who theme done by the KLF. Meanwhile 'A1703 zD6', with its modular tribal sounds and rolling, clicking polyrhythms, feels like a nod to his recent workings on Electronic Recordings From Maui Jungle Vol. 1. Its mesh of the ancient and hypermodern has all the bearings of a techno reworking of the hypotheses you find in alien conspiracy potboilers like Chariots Of The Gods. Only 'GN-108036' and 'BDF-3299', with their sense of machine propulsion and menace, sound closest to floor filled techno bangers.

Every day, NASA's network of orbiting telescopes are picking up what you'd call the "music of space - strange, pulsing electromagnetic vibrations as planets from within our solar system and beyond sing to us in haunting, austere patterns. Listening to From Farthest Known Objects, you can hear Child attempt to capture and manipulate the essence of such disparate elements into a dance music blueprint. As AI assembled music that looks to shed the human and become self-aware, the album does at times feel rudimentary; 'ULAS J1120+0641', for example, nods listlessly from side to side, not sure how to evolve or what to do with itself.

Because of these rudimentary constructions, From Farthest Known Objects feels incomplete in parts, as if to these ears they are still missing components from the alien's machine syntax, oddly human things such as funk or soul. But that's perhaps the entire point of this album; the inorganic vocabulary that comes from an alien intelligence would be thinking on many levels and many dimensions beyond the average Joe in the street. This album doesn't contain smooth, easily digestible tracks with drops and hooks that you can play at work or in your car on your way home. They are best heard when you jack into the more inhuman environs of the dancefloor, where ego is lost and you become an assimilated part of a bigger organic engine.

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