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Deep Voices #77
curl up in a ball and hibernate until spring
Each edition of Deep Voices is a one-hour playlist, with a mix of personal writing and music criticism. A paid subscription gets you access to exclusive playlists, including Deep Voices deep cuts on YouTube. It also supports my writing, for which I am extremely grateful. If you read and listen to Deep Voices, please consider a paid subscription. Thank you!
After an emotionally charged Deep Voices last week, this week’s edition is a bit cooler to the touch. Scottish poetry, a song called “So Disappointed,” another called “Cold and Empty Constellations,” a ghostly machine-generated Lana Del Rey, everything you need to curl up into a ball and hibernate until spring. Happy Halloween, if you celebrate, which I do not, because getting dressed in regular clothes is difficult enough.
By way of explaining the mechanized voices heard on his new album, Models, producer Lee Gamble says that he played bits of songs to a neural network which then did its best to sing it back to him. He wrote that he used, “a series of artificially synthesised vocals, both AI-generated and synthetic. As synthetic media these simulated voices are naturally disembodied, trained on and by humans, but alone and somewhat incomplete.” Like playing a game of telephone with a computer. The digital echo produced on “Xlth c. Spray” is undeniably Lana Del Rey-ian. You can hear her signature husky warble across the song’s shimmering melody.
I don’t know how this stuff works, nor do I think I need to to evaluate it; elaborate wall text in a museum needn’t dictate how you feel about the splash of colors. But the frayed edges around the vocals, like a modem dying, are really creepy. I’ve heard some of the hyper-realistic AI songs made of rappers like Drake, which don’t feel new at all. They feel boring. What’s the point of using technology to one-to-one imitate what humans already do in abundance? It’s the uncanniness of what Gamble is doing here that’s so effective, the ability to summon this disembodied Lana/Not Lana without so much as a comprehensible word that creeps me out.
It makes sense that Gamble released this record (and most of his others) on Hyperdub, home base of Burial, arguably the producer with the most devastating use of vocal samples. The two musicians are kin. But when Burial works with samples, he lifts them out of their original context, exalting them. No one but he has the ear to hear that a snippet of Ray J song could be manipulated to be devastating in a new context. Gamble’s work with samples is about decontextualization too, but, unlike Burial’s, it’s not also about reconstitution. The only transformation happening in Gamble’s song is a denuding. On “Xlth c. Spray” he doesn’t even bother with the sample. Digital Lana is reduced to shreds, painted wordlessly with a broad brush. It works like a mnemonic device, close enough to remind you of its origin, but always arm's length from that original context.
I’ve always been particularly taken with Gamble’s EP, Diversions 1994-1996, which is made up entirely of samples from his collection of jungle music on cassette, a slightly lower-fi way of getting the same hyperreal yet inhuman effect he does on Models. Though jungle an effusive genre, Gamble’s songs on Diversions are icy, discomfiting, closer to noise or drone than anything that actively resembles dance music. Occasionally, you hear a moment that’s familiar, a briefly linear snare pattern or an MC’s yawp. But it sounds different now, alone. How can that be? It sounded so different on the original song. If, he seems to be saying, in isolation, what you hear is odd, it was always odd. If it’s sad, it was always sad. Why do you hear the way that you hear? He’s not offering a new song, he’s offering a new way to listen.
Speed Demon is a tough listen. It’s an album by Finnish producer Ripatti Deluxe (whose real name is Sasu Ripatti and who is better known as Vladislav Delay). It’s more sketches than songs (only one of the 13 tracks goes past the three minute mark, while eight of them are under it), but he crams a lot into each. It often sounds like you’re listening to several songs simultaneously, all being played on fast forward. I hesitated to include a track on Deep Voices because I don’t know how much people really like that kind of thing where, you know, music sounds like torture. But I popped the excellently named, and mercifully brief, “Tambourine Love Hat” on this week’s mix. I think it breaks things up. It sounds like the excitable drummer for a death metal band in between songs at a concert, impatiently tapping his foot on the hi-hat, waiting for the rest of the band to get it together so they can start demolishing shit. (To anyone who finds that description appealing, I recommend spending some time with some old Brutal Truth videos.)
A double dose of Duncan Cooper, my former colleague twice over. First, in the form of a recommendation. He tipped me off to the excellence of the score of Hal Hartley’s Isabelle Huppert-featuring film, Amateur. Cool enough. But then he told me the score is co-credited to “Ned Rifle,” who it turns out is a pseudonym for Hartley himself. Very cool!
The second dose of Duncan comes in the form of a track by his project Wildarms, “So Disappointing.” As someone with high standards with himself and others, I’m familiar with the feeling of disappointment. Is it justified? In a conversation about this with my father, he said, “there’s a lot of righteousness in disappointment.” Which I think can be true, but can also muddy justifiable expectations. What does Duncan think? I posed the question to him:
I probably agree with your dad. This is kind of mean, but when other people are disappointed in me I’ll usually think they’re being stuck up or envious or generally weak. Like are you disappointed or just upset you’re not in control? It’s admittedly also very self-righteous for me to be so defensive, but maybe in disappointing situations everyone should try for more humility. The song is kind of funny in this context: I clearly wasn’t respecting the singer’s disappointment very much if what comes next is a funky little zoned-out beat.
That’s all for this week. If I’ve let you down, please keep it to yourself.