Around 20 years ago I picked up a copy of Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples Of The Moon on the Wergo label. The CD had a rather generic grey sleeve and proudly stated it was part of the ‘music made by computer’ series. It was on my desk at work and a colleague joked that it was her idea of a total nightmare.
The general discomfort that comes from the idea of computers seamlessly positioned in the human world is also well visited in science fiction. The themes of Blade Runner or Moon position humanities edge blurred into mechanisation. Hal 9000s deactivation of Daisy Daisy plots a chilling unpicking from childhood into pure blocks of technological DNA.
And the voice itself within older applications like TextEdit and more recently Siri and Alexa have tried to site verbal engagement with technology as part our normal everyday life. Whilst this seems like potentially the most effortless of interfaces, talking to a machine still toils to be universally acceptable or functional.
So in a way, synthetic speech feels weird because it’s understandable but approximates so much that’s subtle about how we all use our voices and speech to convey meaning beyond words. When we talk, we clearly impart more than words. So the broad arc of Paul DeMarinis work seems to grow out of some weird fissure that predates todays technological chatter. It straddles this strange gap between pure meaning and pure sounds.
Songs Without Throats is a new and crazy 85-minute trawl from mainly unreleased madness spanning 1979 to 1996. Taken as a whole, the collection plots the full spectrum of his oeuvre, from neon pin pong pop to textural sonic jpeggery. Cutting and looping fragments of words into pulses and rhythms like a startling crystallised machine-built dimension. Somehow, the thought of this collection had prepared me for a tough listen, another release by him Music As A Second Language was a revelation but somehow marvelled in a harder more impenetrable gnarled complexity.
The 13 tracks collected here flesh out a world that plays out the slavish way’s computers respond to input. Imagine a copy/paste of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, and your robot will chunkily wade through the monstrous task without complaint and do so, with a charmingly inaccurate candour.
The opening track If God Were Alive (& He Is) You Could Reach Him By Telephone matches the popular 70’s toy Speak And Spell with a human voice. They both navigate words whose forms have been rounded out. The human voice departing from speech into song. The electronic toy reduced to synthetic tones that feel like pixelated stepping stones.
Et Tu, Klaatu humorously bridges Shakespeare to 1950’s Sci-Fi. A call and response between computer and strings, a gently intensifying dialogue. Electronics slowly grow and reconnect themselves into a mosaic of new threads birthing a superb 3-dimensional pop reality. This feels like the circuitry has taken over which makes the enthusiastic actual real-life applause at the end of this live performance even more head spinningly amazing.
Mind Power feels like the stuff a robot pilot might say before the robot plane takes off for robot city. And Yellow Yankee is the Matrix code woven into a rhythmic blanket. Bouncing around spectacularly with formless computer vocalisations. Music that still perfectly draws visions of a future we haven’t yet reached.
‘If you want to keep your audience interested…’
is a prominent human uttered sample at the start of Vocal Variety, clearly lifted from some ancient guide to recording speech but pressed through the DeMarinis weird bank of filters. Tearing up, drawing over, deviating from and integrating into the original human voice. The human aspect slowly becoming far more alien that the development of harpsichord and fairground electronics that build at its conclusion.
The album shifts through several gear changes which feel like a flythrough of a DeMarinis sketchbook but the first eleven tracks feel like a perfect preparation for the weird texturing of the final two. Edison’s Piano is a process based on an old 78 and cylinder recordings and are then remapped and replayed on electronic piano and glass harmonica, and ultimately re-cut and played back as a new cylinder. The surface noise and the actual music of the original, gently amalgamated and reinterpreted into the process. It’s a full 18 minutes and a fascinating translation that utilises the literal nature of technology doing exactly what it’s told. Pockets of absolute strangeness abound.
Perhaps even stranger is the collections closer. The Lecture Of Comrade Stalin At The Extraordinary 8th Plenary Congress About The Draft Concept Of The Constitution Of The Soviet Union On November 25, 1936 gravitates around a very rare recording of Stalin scribbled over with bird tweeting sparkles. Then folky guitar loop drops out of nowhere as the scene officially weirds out. Then a crazy wormhole, some slap stick car horn orchestration, clapping, operatic warbling and a fade out to applause…
Songs Without Throats is a truly special roller coaster. Imagine The Conet Project, disco, Kraftwerk, Bruce Haack, James Ferraro and a bank of plain text all being somehow being made into a sonic PDF.
It’s terrifying, impossibly groovy, funny and brain ticklingly brilliant.
Songs Without Throats is out now on double vinyl, available is the US here and Europe here