When I was a child, the great tradition of vinyl looked like it was going to die in the face of this new thing called the compact disc. I vaguely remember debates along the lines of CD being ‘harsh’ and vinyl having a ‘warmth’, debates which I could never really engage via my parents’ low end consumer technology record and compact disc players. To me, the compact discs sounded better because they weren’t smothered in annoying pops and hisses. I’m still pretty much of that opinion, even in the face of my own much improved music playback systems. But, I do now also see what those old audiophiles were on about – the harshness of digital sound – and it is most apparent in releases such as Reflections, the latest from Barcelona based label Medusa Music. Here, it is a deliberate exploration of digital static and noise which bring to the fore the intrinsic nature of the digital.
RMSonce is the project of Francesc Marti and on this album, he explores a post-Fennesz sense of beauty through disintegration. Where many artist currently doing the noise rounds rely on layers of analogue degradation – via both analogue effects processing and through the release media of vinyl and cassette – Marti goes the opposite way and dives headlong into the world of unstable zeros and ones. While not particularly aggressive, his fields of static have a synapse snapping fuzz around the edges. It’s difficult to describe, but listening to this kind of digital distortion always leaves me feeling physically ill at ease. Maybe it’s the high pitched residue of bitcrushed drones that my ears can’t cope with, but I find it impossible to listen to this music passively. The actual musicality is quite beautiful – a collection of quiet drones, layered arpeggios and fizzes – but listening is an act of warfare. The beauty is a facade covering unease and dread. The flickering sonorities are the outlets of the ghosts in the machine.
Marti keeps most of the pieces relatively short in length, around 2 to 4 minutes in general, and this is a relief. Perhaps longer pieces may have heightened his intent, but it may well have also made the album unlistenable. As it stands, the tracks on Reflections make their advance, then cut themselves off, often abruptly, giving you time to gather yourself for the next onslaught. If it is fuzzy beds of warm distortion swathes you are after, this is not the place to come. The realms of digital disintegration are cold and harsh, no matter how gentle. The simplest drone can feel like a bandsaw attacking your skull. You need to be prepared to face and engage this music, it won’t sit comfortably in the background.