Steerage - Entropy Is What The State Makes Of It, illustration of ships' hulls

Entropy Is What The State Makes Of It

There’s an instant in the second track of the album “Entropy Is What The State Makes Of It” by US duo Steerage where the quiet, weighty hum that had persisted from the opening of the piece suddenly gives way to a loud resonant buzz, a sharp tone all the more piercing for the muted tension that preceded it. A remarkable aspect of this sudden switch is just how natural it seems, as if some kind of physical or chemical threshold or tipping point has been reached, resulting in a sudden yet logical change of state. The buzz then fades away to leave a series of rhythmic pulses wrapped in rushing noise.

This sense of change flowing contingently from the material is present all through the album, as if the physical or electrical properties of the sound sources (for example, emerging feedback and resonances) had been allowed to become the music’s primary shaping influence. In any case, A.F. Jones and Barry Chabala wisely choose to go with the flow and allow the changes to unfold. The album cover bears a beautiful illustration of ships, a visual association easily made at various points across the album’s four pieces: listen to opening track ‘the prominence of fading decorum’‘s oil tankers passing in the night fog and rising glissandos like very slow ship’s sirens, or the irregular scraping of a hull against the edge of a pier that ends ‘upon maelstroms of unbearable reality’. In last track ‘a faculty of encounter’, a quiet pulse gradually builds into a thunderous, squelching beat, before suddenly giving way to sparse acoustic guitar harmonics; these two sections together feel like the most obviously performed moments on the album.

Mostly, however, the album moves unfussily but steadily through a range of electronic tones and timbres, with all the mass of a 100,000-ton oil tanker behind its momentum. Jones and Chabala build harmonies of real weight and complexity without leaning on the tired Western binary of consonance and dissonance; instead, harmonic development seemingly unfolds by way of irreversible progression through a number of states of intensity or entropy, ranging from clear, distinct tonal and rhythmic relations (low entropy) to broadband fuzz (high entropy). The quiet, irregular sounds that so convincingly evoke lapping waves and billowing wind at the start of ‘a faculty of encounter’ point towards a music based more on observations of material and geodynamic processes than melodramatic evocations of emotion — though as John Cage noted, there are few things more capable of moving us emotionally, of activating our “response ability”, than the material world. This is great work from Steerage, cementing a very strong 2015 from Mathieu Ruhlmann’s label caduc. (A.F. Jones)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.