Accompanying the question about whether machines are increasingly capable of thinking like us, is if our time spent with computers has led us to increasingly think like them. Anyone who’s had the experience of a job interview where the person asking the questions seemed to be interested in key words instead of the candidate, will know all too well that algorithmic thinking has crept into our reasoning.
With Eliza McCarthy and Mica Levi’s ‘Slow Dark Green Murky Waterfall‘, dropped with little warning on Slip on 24 October, it’s possible to get a gauge on this weird inversion of the Turing Test.
Electronic music is inevitably shaped by the interaction between musician and technology – whether a sequencer or software. But McCarthy and Levi’s process is inherently distanced from this dynamic. It’s built around the traditional, clearly demarcated formula of the performer, McCarthy, playing the works of the composer, Levi. These performances are captured live, with little embellishment or post production aside from the mastering of Giuseppe Ielasi. There is no sense that this music is anything other than the pure engagement of mind and body with the possibilities and limitations of a single acoustic instrument.
Nevertheless, one of the most startling things about opening track “Diamond Gun” is how electronic the arrangement sounds. Rapid, staccato trills dart across the sonic space while two bass notes lurch longingly in the background. It almost feels palimpsestic, as if Levi has, whether intentionally or not, composed a piece of music evoking the surprise contrasts and collisions that come from cutting, pasting and integrating samples with each other.
McCarthy’s playing captures a similar feeling. Her touch and feel across the piano keys are stunning in their sensitivity. On “Riding Through Drinking Harpo Dine”, she delicately adjusts the level of sustain as she loops through a series of galloping phrases for two minutes. These microscopic changes in the timbre of the keys are pivotal to the track, twisting its emotional co-ordinates from jovial to mournful and back. It’s a pure fixation with tone that seems to have as much to do with synthesis as piano recital.
The key here is that Levi and McCarthy’s work feels like it’s taking in influences from well beyond the traditional gestures of solo piano music, giving both composer and performer a far more lucid vocabulary in the six compositions. This is felt in the abrupt swerves in pace and tone in Levi’s arrangements, capturing the mathematical structures of Autechre or Mark Fell’s software generated sequences. And the sheer range of textures and feelings that McCarthy coaxes from her instrument.
At their heart, the six piano pieces are an attempt by Levi and McCarthy to emulate the imagery embodied in the track titles. In “Bullet Hits the Wall“, this takes the form of piano chords flying through air like exploding shards, while following track “Waves” has a far more graceful ebb and flow in its progression. On ‘Slow Dark Green Murky Waterfall’, McCarthy and Levi turn what would be arbitrary word combinations into vivid, achingly poetic musical responses.
‘Slow Dark Green Murky Waterfall’ is out now in vinyl format, order a copy from Bandcamp. Eliza McCarthy is scheduled to perform music from ‘Slow Dark Green Murky Waterfall’ at the Old Dentist in Hackney, London on 15 November 2018.
1. Diamond Gun
2. Bullets Hit The Wall Sugar Hits The Bowl
4. Riding Through Drinking Harpo Dine
5. Slow Dark Green Murky Waterfall
6. Smoke Goes Up
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