Top Notes: Abstract expressionist productions reminiscent of Lonnie Holley and Derrick May
Mid Notes: Hazy beat science by a modern legend emotionally centering listeners without succumbing to the lazy anti-intellectualism of 2010’s chill beats and ambient music.
Base Notes: A dubious bait-and-switch release that displays a return to form before a proper full-length
Actress, real name Darren Cunningham’s latest release 88 is a soothing bait-and-switch release that seems to serve as a teaser for his next full length Karma & Desire. The single track, near-50-minute composition follows the formula of previous Actress albums like Hazyville or RIP while also subverting listener expectations. 88 sees Actress return to form after a few years of semi-academic collaborative experiments in A.I. and orchestral composition.
Cunningham’s work is presumably similar to other Black leftfield provocateurs like Dean Blunt or patten, who seek to titillate and dodge expectations set by experimental music’s largely White male consumer audience. The track titles (or movements) like “DarkFuture” or “Lovely Muffled Tones And Beat” hint at a single-minded investigation of trial sound environments and compositional techniques. While the forthcoming full-length is expected to be an opus, or a culminating product for audiences and critics to taste and judge, 88 detourns formatting in a way that is more important—and ought to be expected—in a time where streaming services pay ~0.004 cents per track play, ultimately devaluing music as a whole.
Overall, whether 88 is a “satisfying” release or not, it comes across as Actress playing 3-dimensional chess against himself in anticipation of his next optimized, original collection of sounds. On Twitter, Actress has offered a few vague clues to 88’s meaning with images of football player Drew Pearson, two side-by-side images of the now-deceased basketball player Kobe Bryant, and a like to an article in The Atlantic called “88, Or How Telegraphers Coded ‘Love and Kisses.’”—which details ways in which morse code has been used to articulate feelings. In the abbreviated language, “88” was used as shortform for “love and kisses,” which The Atlantic claims made it “the heart emoji of its time.”
Mad Mike of Underground Resistance would often say that Techno is “coded” and a language that can only be accessed through direct participation. 88 isn’t Karma and Desire, but it is a novel gift in sonic exploration that leaves an unspoken message for the listener to not take for granted.
Download and listen to 88 by answering the artist’s cryptic riddle on his website (hint: it may or may not be the title to his upcoming album).
DeForrest Brown, Jr. is a New York-based theorist, journalist, and curator. He produces digital audio and extended media as Speaker Music and is a representative of the Make Techno Black Again campaign. His most recent writing can be found at Afropunk, Artforum and Hyperallergic. Primary Information will publish his book Assembling a Black Counter Culture in August 2020.
01. Blurring Celt
05. Every Action
11. Lovely Muffled Tones and Beat
17. in the rain