Since the very beginning, electronic music has always been exploring alien worlds, conjuring images of whirling discs, horseshoe nebulae, and strange, alien races. Whether this is due to electronic music’s arsenal of non-acoustic sound generators – synths and drum machines – which can produce pure, mathematical tones not possible in the natural world; or because of early sci-fi’s adoption of said signal generators to soundtrack their far out fever dreams, is difficult to say for certain. But whether it’s the soundtracks for SF classics like Fantastic Planet or the original Dr. Who score from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the shifting patterns of the “Berlin School [of electronic music]” of Tangerine Dream, or the amorphous ambiance of beat-less Aphex Twin, electronic music is particularly adept at portraying new worlds, as well as our own, at times.
Electronic music took a brief detour into the mainstream, starting in the ’70s, with the dawn of rave/EDM/disco, which was all well and good, not to mention inevitable, given the laser-precision of electronic music’s tonal sculpting. It might have been inevitable, but that doesn’t diminish the minor sense of disappointment, as early electronica’s futurist manifesto was co-opted into more formulaic presets, structures, and genres. Suddenly, the vast wide-open possibilities of the future were co-opted into fitting into prescribed lifestyle boxes – sort of the sonic equivalent of only having white actors in some SF space opera. What was once limitless and open to everybody – an infinite array of potential futures, like Borges’ Garden Of Forking Paths – was reductively boiled down to a few caricutare-like camps.
As with most things in the 21st century, we seem to have come full circle with electronic music, with a whole new generation (generations, really) once again returning to electronic music’s ability to conjure strange, alien worlds, as well as finding our place in the world we’re living in.
The term Arcology is a mash-up of the words architecture and ecology. It’s a futuristic architectural theory about the integration of architecture and the natural world, coined by famed architect Paolo Soleri.
Arcology is also the second album from Denver producer/beatsmith Ryan McRyhew under his Thug Entrancer guise for Daniel Lopatin‘s software imprint. McRyhew is a staple of the Denver underground surrounding the underground venue/artspace Rhinoceropolis (also home of Pictureplane, one of those responsible for coining the term “witch house”). McRyhew was an early advocate for raw, live electronic music, in the form of Chicago’s juke/footwork, after spending some time in the Windy City.
As is fitting for Daniel Lopatin’s – better known as Oneohtrix Point Never – Software imprint, McRyhew takes these raw beat/techno excursion to the level of high art, with a unique juxtaposition of a fascinating concept, exceptional design, and, most importantly, killer production and songwriting.
McRyhew’s goal with Arcology was to express a self-contained environment, as an exploration of high tech / low life society, mechanical structures, and data-driven humanity. Which serves as some useful and interesting post-criticism, to hang our theories on, but the most important question remains – does it sound good?
It does indeed, not being nearly as difficult (although maybe twice as complicated) as the explanation sounds. McRyhew conjures trancy dance voyages via rudimentary synths and rhythm boxes, most notably the iconic techno staples the 303 and 808. This set-up automatically hearkens back to classic, old school Detroit and Acid Techno, but Thug Entrancer polishes the acid to a diamond-like precision.
Arcology is a head-swirling odyssey of fragmented bass-lines, fizzy-lifting kicks and claps, and occasional warm, analog melodies. Everything is all about the intersecting lines, minimal and stripped down, but layered and coerced into fascinating, shifting shapes.
In this way, listening to Arcology is akin to observing the ecosystem of some strange climate, either through rough, raw data, or maybe just sitting in the midst, watching the fray.
While McRyhew’s futurist dancing lines may be approaching the transhuman – the sound of ecology, without us in it – it’s also a culmination and final fruition of Bach’s beloved mathematical baroque music. This is counterpoint, taken to a celestial level – the soundtrack for heavenly (and earthly) harmony.
Fans of Floating Points, DJ Rashad, Oneohtrix Point Never, and collating Big Data need to get in on this!
-words by J Simpson