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Analogue Creatures Living On An Island Ben Graham , November 15th, 2016 09:03

Husband and wife duo Colin Newman and Malka Spiegel have hardly been unproductive since the release of the last Immersion album in 1998. Both have continued working together as half of Githead, alongside Spigel's fellow Minimal Compact member Max Franken and Robin Rimbaud, while Spigel has also continued to release solo albums, with Newman a frequent collaborator, has held acclaimed exhibitions of her photography, and reformed her eighties band Minimal Compact for a series of sold-out shows. Newman, of course, has also kept busy as part of a re-energised Wire.

Their impetus for resuming work under the Immersion banner seems to have been Newman's purchase of an Arturia Microbrute analogue synthesiser early in 2015, at the conclusion of a Wire US tour. The pair began experimenting with this device alongside their trusty Korg MS-10, and decided that the results had enough common ground with the three LPs they released as Immersion in the 1990s to justify resurrecting that identity. This in turn however made them think seriously about how their working practises, and indeed the wider world, had changed in the past 17 years. We can all speculate on what these are, and how they might have fed into the new record, but the point is that there was never any intention of picking up exactly where Immersion left off; Analogue Creatures Living On An Island is a reinvention, not a revival.

The first fruits of the experiment were released as a 5-track, 10" EP in February. All of those pieces are included on this CD-only release, and the remaining four numbers will be released as a second 10" in the near future. Immersion now seems to focus as an outlet for the duo's more abstract, instrumental work, distinct from the relatively song-based approach of the projects mentioned above. As such, the album is composed of largely electronic instrumental compositions that ebb and flow like the tide, and indeed the album was made during the pair's first year of living beside the sea, in Brighton.

Unlike earlier Immersion releases however, guitars are now allowed to unobtrusively slip in between the layers of synthesisers, and the simple thrumming strings that open first track 'Always The Sea' are somehow immediately recognisable as Newman. Perhaps this nod to a recognisable 'Wire sound' is a deliberate way back in to a sonic aesthetic that is actually quite distinct and separate, and actually that way in is swiftly obscured as the listener is appropriately immersed in a very different environment, with no choice but to follow the developing current all the way to the album's end.

Despite that introductory flash, Newman and Spigel are equal partners in Immersion, and there's no way of telling where one's contributions begin and the other's end. The instruments themselves are also equal collaborators, as the press release suggests they were often left to do their own thing with very little conscious guidance from the musicians. So the dominant voice of 'Nanocluster' is the aching, creaking drone of the Arturia Microbrute itself, and while 'Fireflys' is cinematic, pastoral and etched with wonder, a necessary mechanical chill and precision keeps human sentimentality firmly at bay. Equally, while there's a distinct melancholy to the descending minor-key hook of 'Living on An Island,' it's offset by the passive, ordered brutality of 'Mechanical Creatures,' which is actually oddly comforting.

In the nineties Immersion briefly masqueraded as a German techno duo, and while Germanic influences still loom large, this is electronic music for listening rather than dancing. The likes of Tangerine Dream and Cluster are obvious reference points, and the combination of looped, ambient synthesisers with quicksilver guitar slivers on pieces like 'Shapeshifters' can't help but recall Fripp & Eno's 1970s collaborations. But by the closing 'Slow Light' this feels more than anything like futuristic church music: beautifully austere, neither uplifting nor sorrowful, but simply there, and full of infinite wonder for just that reason.