The sleeve of New Topographics is a photograph of a sculpture by Derva Freelander. ‘Fluorescent Anomaly’ is made of epoxy resin, fibreglass, polystyrene and enamel which looks like a puddle of some hugely toxic waste levitating above the ground. It’s easy to regard this as a weird stylised version of reality.
And continuing along the visual art theme, the phrase ‘new topographics’, was first used in the mid 70’s to describe a group of photographers that explored a form of urban banality. In a way that earlier artists had absorbed the landscape – now car parks, warehouses and industrial starkness and straight lines were deeply meditated on.
This short sweep through these surface references of this release helps to frame the 9 short sonic ecosystems mapped out by Brooklyn based percussionist and composer Matt Evans. Full Squid opens out with rounded electronics and tumbling, twinkling rhythmic layers built from translations of braille. Whilst they elements share the same space, they seem intent on only describing their own spatial layers.
An Infinite Cybernetic Meadow feels like all the components are moths spinning around a lightbulb before islands of bass and odd reflections slowly encourage things forward. Given the strange, near static start, the bouncing ball electronics of Spinning Blossoms is an unexpectedly active event based on typing on a keyboard.
Cold Moon catches nocturnal insects in a rising chimney, On Dracaena morphs in strange twisting geometries. Data Fog map out variations of tumbling agitated rhythmic knots and pleasing electronic smudges before growing aggressive edges.
So the controlled metallic shimmering of Ongongos and the extended warmth of Jaich Maa and New Moon round off what might just skip past as a pleasing 33 minutes of gently tumbling ambience.
But on deeper research, it becomes clear as the album rolls by, that Evan’s music is being oddly driven by an undercurrent. Worked on, quickly and intensively, many of the strategies here are based on Richard Brautigan’s short poem –
‘All watched over by machines of loving grace’
The line and general idea forming the conceptual spine, and content for much of the album.
The music here is the residue of processes that’s way beyond simple atmospherics. So, whilst the surface quality of New Topographics has little in common with the work of Roland Kayn, it does share this sense of outlining cybernetics that’s almost impossible to understand without a framework.
There is always a risk, that the conceptual baggage and theory can bog down the simple pleasure of liking the way this music sounds. Whilst the music may well attempt to describe complex ideas like ‘hyperobjects’, it’s equally, an enjoyable collection of somehow perplexing electronic music. But there is something superbly enrichening about digging around and gently unpeeling that surface layer…
New Topographics beams with a strange logic that makes each track feel more like blocks of material than any attempt to convey mood. Imagine stockpiling all the elements required for some lowercase architectural project – cement, wooden beams, slates and nails and considering them as neatly piled in a corner before you start to manipulate, transform and activate them. Seemingly mundane but gloriously pregnant.
New Topgraphics is out on April 17th on Whatever’s Clever