Ben Chatwin – Staccato Signals

Credit: Jonny Birch

Staccato Signals melds the electronic with the acoustic, creating a record that’s gone into full beast mode. Using analogue and modular synthesizers, Ben Chatwin lets the music off the leash, relinquishing control to metal machinations and unpredictable sequencing, thus creating more of a natural-sounding and wild-looking album. Taking a risk is needed to avoid stagnation – in all areas of life – but Chatwin has always pushed and encouraged his music, developing it and then watching it grow as it moves into new stages of life; he’s always been a forward-thinking musician. There’s no chance of progressing if there’s no risk involved. And you learn from that.

You can see this progression with the inclusion of a string quartet, which brings both a temporary elegance and an element of control (even if it’s just an illusion) to the noisy engineering work. Some degree of arrangement was needed, and this counter-balances the lack of control in the snaking synth. When left to their own devices, the textures grate with the rough, cracked hide of dragon skin, breathing out fiery pillars of synth.

It speaks of our desire as a species to first intrude and then to trample upon the natural world, to use and in some instances abuse our precious environment. But, much like the Brexit slogan, nature finds a way to ‘take back control’, taking back what was once hers. Chernobyl’s young seeds can testify to that.

Our species would get an A* in destruction studies. Deforestation and fracking are just a few ways to do that. Oil, fire, and pessimism abound to produce a fiery cauldron of sound as Chatwin’s environment swells up in anger and injury, roaring like the Forth and the North Sea (which is a major oil and gas reservoir). Chatwin’s hometown of South Queensferry is also included in the pulsating cacophony as he delves into a cruel period in the town’s history, when it was once the site of witch executions. The dark drum pounds against a landscape as black as oil, its clumping staccato as tight as a knot and sounding like the march of death itself. The strings quiver under a sack of hometown history before bowing down to the electronics of the twenty-first century, but the sharp synth straddles history, because it can be both modern in sound and a truly primal thing with a ferocious eye and a terrifying appetite; the clank-clank of simple percussion helps in taking the listener back in time, too.

The electronics are permanently charged, feeling more like the snap of a lightning bolt, a staccato strike, than a fully-formed idea, which could be down to the semi-random process of letting the unruly synth do whatever it wants, and although there is a semblance of a structure within, the synth feels like it’s leading a rebellion. Its go-to response appears to be ‘whatever’, because, for the most part, it’s seemingly apathetic to the presence of the strings. Sometimes, though, it becomes as openly hostile as an acid-spewing Xenomorph, rising up with an almost-volcanic level of intensity. And you don’t want to be near it when it erupts.

Both electronic and acoustic kingdoms are welded together, the sharper, steely wires of mesh-covered synth coiling around the loose, prone strings and then crushing them like an invasive industrial factory built on top of what was once a field of daisies and dandelions. A constant battle is raging: the green belt versus the new road proposal, a line of trees against asphalt desires. Chatwin’s music shines a light on grey areas. Towards the end, a brighter harmony shines through the subtle gloom with a thin finger of light poking through its silver sky, but the music is still a brooding hulk of a thing, restless in its wanderings and veering to and fro; it goes off track, because there isn’t a clear, straight road to follow, and this is a little disorienting, making the music feel both loose and unrestrained, as unsettled as English weather in June.

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