Even Clean Hands Damage The Work
John Chantler is an Australian musician living and working in the UK, where he also produces the programme for London’s renowned experimental music venue Cafe Oto. Modular synthesis is the focus of his own musical output, and his new release “Even Clean Hands Damage The Work” was recorded at a range of studios with a variety of different synthesizer systems. The sounds are arranged into two pieces in which the multiple voices meld into a coherent whole, giving the impression of a single organism at play, as in a string orchestra, rather than a hodge-podge of competing analogue personalities.
First track “November Pts Hi _ Dismantled Cabaret” buzzes with fretful energy, seemingly pushed almost to the edge of chaos — a disingenuous impression, as every shift in weight and direction has its place within an overall program. Critic and philosopher Theodor Adorno used to bang on about something he called “integration”, in which details are brought together to form a single unit without the parts losing their partness nor the whole its wholeness: “November Pts Hi” is a masterclass in it. Compared to the teeming forest of its partner, second track “Wollmer Organ _ The Knight Firth” is a plateau of intensities stretching out in all directions, replacing linear unravelling with a self-replenishing presencing. The wonderfully articulated closing section maintains the same density of presence even as the volume drops.
A sense of compositional focus, of every sound being intentionally and thoughtfully deployed within a structure, can be heard throughout both pieces. This is not to say that the release sounds over-determined or contrived, however, as the music’s complexity and proliferation of connections work to disperse or separate out its own unity at the point of listening, the way a large intricately-designed building yields countless different views. The kind of listening evinced is hence a roving, mobile one; the music doesn’t etch out a narrative but rather inscribes an environment. I sometimes worry that the current trend for modular and analogue synthesis bears all the hallmarks of a passing fad, but if it helps bring more attention to long-time synth virtuosos like Chantler, Thomas Ankersmit, and others, then I’m all in favour — this is great work.