The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

The Lead Review

Small Is Beautiful: XMIT By Microcorps
Ryan Alexander Diduck , April 15th, 2021 08:46

Collaborations with Nik Void, Gazelle Twin, Simon Fisher Turner, and Astrud Steehouder make the latest project from Alexander Tucker all the more essential, finds Ryan Diduck

Information in the post-COVID world has assumed a curious characteristic of meaningless equivalency, one chart – one graph, one statistic – taking on seemingly no more nor less significance than any other. This latest fact attack is in addition to the regular broadcast news and social media cycles that plague our consciousness with unwanted and unnecessary infotainment: billionaires’ babies’ names, Royal families’ antics, dispatches from the vacant crania of celebrities’ children and grandchildren, stock selloffs and sports scores edging against today’s human death toll. (Up next, the weather.) In an attention economy, what we pay attention to is no longer relevant, so long as we pay rapt attention to something.

The prolific British artist Alexander Tucker’s latest project, MICROCORPS, aims to represent this and other abstract modern notions in musical form – notions such as: how languages produce lived realities, the interplay of machine music and dream music, composition versus improvisation, self-effacement, and the ubiquitous, unfathomable capacity and velocity of information (the album’s title, XMIT, refers to data transmission). A master collaborator having previously been associated with Imbogodom and Grumbling Fur, Tucker now enlists his own all-star team of players including Nik Void, Simon Fisher Turner, Astrud Steehouder, and vocalist Elizabeth Bernholz (aka Gazelle Twin) who features on the foreboding first single.

Apparently, darker times call for darker measures, and those familiar with Tucker’s more whimsical productions will immediately note a markedly harsher timbral quality at work through MICROCORPS. The soft-focus, androgynous alien gracing the album’s cover is a product of Tucker’s fancy, too, a figure adapted from his Entity Reunion 2 graphic novel. As an avatar for the record, this mythical being at once summons and forewarns listeners, suggesting a near-future in which representations of extra-humanity – lifeforms, agentic, technological and biological assemblages – beg adequate representation and sympathy. It’s also a subtle suggestion that the alien is ultimately us.

MICROCORPS opts for a predominantly electronic set-up, with hints of the acoustic emerging through intricately processed cello and voice. Album opener ‘JFET’ dukes us immediately with a polyrhythmic skitter anchored by stringed drones that oscillate about the beat like moths around electric light. Tucker stomps solo through two stormy numbers before inviting Bernholz to present a deformed monologue of half-intelligible phrases, words, and guttural syllables (“this emptiness / my eyes cannot adjust / there is no light / there is no sound / there is no atmosphere”). This claustrophobic yet endless imaginary space is terrifying when read against the increasingly frequent experience of fatal illness suffered in total isolation.

Tucker has innovated a novel way of processing signal on XMIT, cutting and splicing segments of speech into time-stretched non-sequiturs, a disquieting technique used to effect, for example, on Simon Fisher Turner’s outing, entitled ‘OCT’. ‘ABII’ with Astrud Steehouder elasticises the album’s most classical vocal elements, whilst orphan electrics are set to gurgle and bray in the background. Nik Void’s contribution, ‘ILN’, is the record’s most straight-ahead knees-up, an analogue, heavyweight raga built for the world’s abandoned dancefloors. At its best, XMIT nods adroitly to Radiohead’s woofer endangering ‘Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors’, and adeptly advances the wild forward/backward vocal simultaneity of ‘Everything in its Right Place’.

XMIT finds a welcome home on Luke Younger’s ALTER label, an interesting stable for new sonic modes for over a decade now (reminder: the Tomutonttu / Oneohtrix Point Never split 7” came out in June 2010) and showcase for, among other future-sailing artists, Basic House, Hieroglyphic Being, Hey Colossus, and Younger’s own work as Helm. While XMIT exists in an albeit brief tradition of longform electronic decomposition, it is remarkable to witness the recent historical trajectory of dance music, from highly structured to deconstructed, and back again. MICROCORPS strikes a delicate balance between perfect order and utter chaos and extends ALTER’s lineage of releasing some of the most challenging output of the post-club era.

We might interpret the name “MICROCORPS” as a critical commentary on the world’s “macrocorps” – the Apples and Alphabets, Amazons, Facebooks, and Microsofts, whose market values are accelerating into the trillions. Each one of these outsize corporations trades primarily in transmission – of goods and services, hardware and software, social clout, but most of all information. There remains very little circulation, of things or ideas, outside these behemoths. And thus, they own our attention. Grand gestures of resistance are immediately incorporated back into the -corp, so it is only through micro-acts of refusal that we stand a chance to wrest back our thought from these consciousness colonisers. In a moment when technology and media giants are vying aggressively for our evermore precious attention, MICROCORPS undoubtedly deserves it.