As we lamented in our sprawling end of year list the abundance of great music released in 2021 made it difficult to keep up. We aim to rectify that with this new summer series where we cover the music that we are ashamed to admit we never quite managed to highlight, yet have found ourselves returning to again and again.
Australian audio visual electronic artist Robin Fox released two albums in 2021 on Room40 and both felt like they were of the moment whilst being entirely different beasts.
Threnody to Now was released at the start of December so barely qualifies for this series, but it really deserves to be spoken about.
It was recorded on his studio Eurorack modular system, and what is immediately apparent is his level of control, opting for a series of long drawn out electronic drones. It’s subtle and affecting, and it maintains its sparse mood by building in density. You can tell you are in the hands of a synthesis lover, someone who worships at the altar of attack and decay, though not so much modulation in these two pieces.
Of course they’re lockdown pieces (what wasn’t in 2021?), where he states in the liner notes ‘both sessions started with a desire to explore the harmonic series with patience and make something vast. What emerged were two epic pieces that seemed to tap into the sadness and disconnection that was gripping the city and my mind at the time.”
I guess I became interested in what makes abstract electronic music sad, because strangely enough I can hear it. There is something sad, lonely and isolated about these stark tones which is really fascinating and makes me wonder whether I would have gotten here without his direction. Weirdly as I write this a neighbour is using power tools and the contrast with the warmth of Fox’s tones makes the piece seem somehow more forlorn – so Robin let me know if you need a remix.
I listened to this piece quite a lot without ever really comprehending what was happening, somehow attracted to its stark but gentle beauty. I’ve also never heard Robin make music like this before.
In September he released Waking Fever Dream, again on Room40 and I view this as his robotic funk record. In a sense it feels like this is electronic party time. I’m struck by the contrast with Threnody to Now which feels like by the time it came around all the fun had been sucked out of him. Waking Fever Dream was recorded while in quarantine at the Pullman hotel Brisbane airport, and again it’s a modular experience. This is more choppy, more rhythmic, more cheeky, with gentle melodic sequences frequently spinning out of control into specific moments of chaos – like he’s repeatedly thwarting any attempt at clean coherent patterns. It gets pretty weird – even a little menacing, at times glitchy, but there’s a real sense of playfulness, again with a pretty limited palette.
I really enjoyed the restrained, moment in time, moment in mind aspect of both of these recordings, and in a sense I feel like they represent most of our roller coaster experience of the pandemic and lockdowns as we came to grips with our emotions in trying times. I think its telling that Threnody to Now was released in December at a time when the party felt like it had been over for a while and we were tired, cranky just trying to make it through. But they both feel like really valuable forms of expression in their own right. I’m looking forward to hearing more of his modular work in future.