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Haroon Mirza / Jack Jelfs
The Wave Epoch David Burke , January 18th, 2021 09:15

Conceived with Jack Jelfs during a 2018 residency at CERN, The Wave Epoch finds Haroon Mirza on apocalyptic form, finds David Burke

“When I say beauty, I guess I mean structure”, says one voice on artist Haroon Mirza’s new audio collaboration with Jack Jelfs. The overriding idea on this record seems to be a profound concern with humanism, and in particular our inability to master our own technology. Again and again, mathematics is apparently revered, granted holy status, statistics are afforded circular logic, like some defeatist, deflationary prayer.

There are no performative flourishes to be had from the different vocalists we hear, many of whom are caught seemingly mid-lecture, describing their relationship to space, to their work, to aliens, to maths, to numbers – and it is this capturing of the distinctly human, with the speakers’ pauses and verbal filler elevated to posterity, that contrasts so sharply against not just the electromechanical accompaniment, but the actual words being spoken. Stammering and halting, their inability to act as a computer would (i.e., in endless, programmatic perfection), and their occasional professed uncertainty are almost combative, striking against the uncaring, throbbing pulse-heart of the machine – a machine which itself speaks on occasion through text-to-speech synthesis.

‘one1one’ is exemplary of this tense relationship between human and computer. Dense percussion making a nod to early Aphex Twin undergirds lyrics devoid of any particular “Studies show the conclusion area, protected areas of attack… Good looking work.” This strange lack of specificity, combined with the clinical production, paves the way for an ironically exacting sensation of unsettled paranoia – is this the voice of a manager, of a military strategist, of a technocrat? By the end of the track we’re thrust into a kind of lab-grown psytrance. This follows hot on the heels of the semi-sacred ‘Castles of the Animate and Inanimate’, with its beautiful occult lamentations courtesy of guest vocalist Gaika. These tracks being the longest, in the middle of the album and sequential cannot be a coincidence. They are this record’s fulcrum, with ‘Castles’ representing humanity in its messy, obscurantist hubris, against that of ‘one1one’s glistening, unforgiving circuit logic.

Mirza’s approach to melody and harmony is sparse and simple, letting the textures do most of the work, and even rhythm is occasionally caught sprinting for the door before being yanked back by the emergence of a new throb. Recorded at CERN in 2018, Mirza conveys eerie sterility in spades, with hardly a melody to speak of saving the excellent, yearning second half of ‘Datura on a Crescent Moon’. Instead, the bulk of the record is given over to unnerving dark ambience, threatening clicks and hums, and spoken word samples. Auditory satisfaction is earned on this record rather than granted, savoured in its brief moments of relative lucidity.

The Wave Epoch is a triumph of concept, leaving you with the same sick feeling you might get after doomscrolling for an hour when you should’ve been working – the black mirror judging you as much as your own superego. A disturbing foray into the interface of number and word, of shiny chrome and sweaty flesh, the album is highly recommended – so long as you’ve made peace with the fact that one day, soon, your McMeal allowance will be tied to the number of Amazon Prime deliveries you’ve made in the past 48 hours.