Our newest series ‘Top Notes’ considers the latest releases through layers of musical nuance. Similar to tasting a dish or smelling a perfume, the work is evaluated in a stream of consciousness: Top notes refer to striking first impressions, middle notes to the core character of the work, and base notes to the work’s long-lasting take-aways.
Top notes: Arpeggios, ’80s synth soundtracks, cyber-aesthetics
Middle notes: Climate change, isolation, the uncanny valley, retro-futurism, The Matrix’s green digital rain
Base notes: A machine orchestra soundtracks a post-human future
James Ferraro‘s work amplifies the underlying values, grievances, and absurdities of the era. In the early 2010s, he used a mix of MIDI instruments and stomach-churning Muzak to critique corporate culture, consumerism, and capitalism on albums like Far Side Virtual and Human Story 3. For the last two years, he’s been prophesizing about post-climate-catastrophe societal collapse through Four Pieces for Mirai, a four-album (plus opening “overture” EP) sequence drawn from the aesthetics of video game soundtracks, synth scores, and science fiction sound design.
The original text accompanying the overture EP:
“By the middle 21st century all the great cities were dying, skyscrapers
and roads silent and empty, left to fossilize in a technological dark age
came to be known as The Deterioration
All that was left was The Remnant, a feudal hierarchy of leftover
humanity, though steadily vanishing.
No one understood the true nature of the processes at work or could explain the vanishing until Marai came. a computer virus, Mirai was created to release us”
The first EP, Four Pieces For Mirai, showed us the crash: glitches, dying modems and medieval plucked instruments to illustrate the world’s return to a feudalist state. The first full length, Requiem for Recycled Earth, was a tragic “opus of ecocide and planetary divorce,” the anxiety of climate change told through melancholic strings and synth soundscapes.
‘Neurogeist,’ the second full length in the FPFM sequence, is the soundtrack to an Earth that has moved on past humanity. The album is more focused, playing like one long, airy breath of relaxation, accompanied by short, twinkling arpeggiated notes and bit-crushed washes of noise. There’s an effortless quality to the way the music unfolds; the anxious tension of previous projects is gone.
By the fourth track, digital waves give way to heavy drops and pulses. By the fifth, you’re flooded by mechanistic reconstructions of metal blasted beats. The bursts of white noise feel like the heaving breaths of overworked machines, and synthesized choruses hum uncanny laments before an overwhelming trance melody gives the final send off.
Electronic musicians have often stated their mission as finding emotion in the machines, but on Neurogeist, it feels like the machines are expressing it all on their own. They never needed us anyway.
Zach Tippitt is an editor for Telekom Electronic Beats. Follow him on Instagram here.
Published June 25, 2020. Words by Zach Tippitt.