Dementio 13 – El Lissitzky (electronic post-rock)

CutMat Recordings, 2012, DD album, 53m 14s

£0+ (name your price)

Composers of electronic music, if they wish to work with a relatively accessible aesthetic, face a particular set of challenges: to avoid a sense of impersonality, to make their music feel ‘human’, to make it breathe, when it may in fact move no physical air between the moment of composition and the moment of reproduction, requires the artist to attend consciously to aspects of the sound that occur automatically in acoustic performance. The uniformity of a repeated sound produced digitally in response to identical instructions is not completely compatible with the idea of music as an expression, as an act of affective communication; this characteristic of electronic music can be exploited as a positive (not just to evoke anomie), by addressing the dancing body as a mechanism, rather than as an organism, or the organ of an interpreting subject. This is the basis of the huge field of electronic music known generally as ‘dance music’ (and it’s not an effect that Dementio 13 ignores) but even there we can observe widespread conventional attempts to re-humanise the music, with vocal hooks, exhortations that deliberately evoke the erotic, samples of acoustic instruments, the re-purposing of grooves originally performed by electro-acoustic instrumentalists, and the stochastic approximation of an acoustic instrument’s aleatory qualities and imperfections.

This last approach is perhaps the most obviously characteristic of Dementio 13’s past work, but on El Lissitzky his working practice engages the mechanism/ organism disjuncture with a new willingness and sophistication. The artist El Lissitzky himself occupied an ambiguous territory between the harshly reductivist abstraction of Suprematism and the social engagement of Constructivism, which may offer a clue to Dementio 13’s overt concerns. The distinction between ‘machine’ music and the ‘other kind’ is of course a spurious one, as all music beyond singing and body percussion involves a composer/ performer issuing instructions to a technological device, and even the perfection of acoustic instruments raises issues of expressivity, hence the continuous vibrato that has been a feature of classical string performance since the early twentieth century. There is an equivalent to that vibrato in the timbre of these sounds, one that I hesitate to call distortion, since it’s not clear what the undistorted ‘original’ might be, but there is a granularity, a degree of crunch and grit that imbues the music with textural unpredictability; it’s not lathered over everything as it might be in noise music, but employed subtly and variably, with an aesthetic that has a lot in common with rock. There are also electro-acoustic instrumental sounds, such as the guitar in ‘Phallanx’, which is a departure as far as I’m aware; that piece also features a bassline that, although it may well be electronic, has a timbre and contour that sound anything but. The track articulates a simple, consonant chord progression, and its meanings seem to reside in its atmosphere and in its layered sonic structure. There are also plenty of dance music tropes in evidence, such as the following track ‘A Faster Product’, which is dominated by an extensively harmonised bass locked to the kick, and sounds a little like a lower-key, darker, less cartoonish Prodigy.

As always, Dementio 13 crafts his work in a great deal of detail, uniting the different elements of his music into a whole so coherent that it sounds ‘natural’, as though it had always been there. I find that I need to remind myself of the work’s singularity; the sound is erudite and self-assured in a way that usually springs from the mastery of a well established set of generic and stylistic conventions, and although El Lissitzky’s musical materials are hardly outlandish, the specific combination of creative practices at play here is pretty much unique to Dementio 13. There are vocals on this album, which function to inject the element of breath that is so often absent from electronic music (intentionally or otherwise), but there is a refusal of the obvious hook to entice the listener; ‘Hollow Point’ is a funky, propulsive track, with a contagiously propulsive beat, but don’t bother trying to sing along to it. There is a pleasingly contrarian approach to the inclusion of human voices, literally so in ‘Collision Courses’, the only track that has a song-like continual vocal component, where the singing is run backwards. There’s humanity, there’s an organic character to the music, as there has been to all of Dementio 13’s releases, but don’t expect an easy literal signification to tell you what the music is ‘about’. Perhaps the closest it gets to representation is the scraping of guitar strings in the same song, a sound which draws attention to the physicality of its production even more explicitly than the heavily processed vocal articulations included on the album. The point of this is not ambiguity, however, and there is nothing confusing about this music; the point is sound, organised in different ways, and the visceral effect it has on its listeners. This is highly accessible music, seeking open ears, but addressing straightforward aesthetic values. Put simply, it sounds great, from start to finish. The purpose of its abstractions is as blatantly obvious as El Lissitzky’s Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge.

El Lissitzky will be released on June 18.

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