- Following Mark Fell's busy solo career over the past few years has been a treat: after exploring the very limits of computational puritanism with Atavism and his own Multistability, it seemed like he was starting to discover melody and rhythm again. UL8 divided his music into suites—and ended with a tearjerker—and this year's Manitutshu saw him make his most accessible record (out of a bunch of rejected softsynth presets no less). Just like UL8 last year, Fell sneaks in a record into the rapidly-closing jaws of 2011 on Editions Mego which charts Fell's further footsteps into conventional structure, without quite slipping into explicitly "musical" territory.
Periodic Orbits of a Dynamic System Related to a Knot might be the least album-ish of all of his recent albums, split into two "side-long" suites, but for an artist as unreservedly conceptual as Fell's, the music stands apart from traditional formatting anyway. A sort of live, improvised take on previously recorded bits and bytes, as alluded above, there's something dogmatically anti-musical about Orbits: as the liner notes go, "the project was entirely written, mixed and edited with MIDI. No audio recordings were present, with the following exceptions: the sound of a Mac Mini failing to mount a DVD..." and so forth. So we've got purely artificially generated sound fused with the sound of the very machinery that powers it. Sounds lovely, doesn't it?
Well the joke's on you, because it is kind of lovely. Orbits glimmers and shines in a manner that's for once more dazzling than it is painfully blinding. "This Side" begins with nine minutes of harsh granulated glitching, occasionally caressed by soft hints of MIDI horn. After those nine minutes, however, something happens: those MIDI sounds begin to unglue and form a pseudo-rhythm that sounds like Ford & Lopatin rewiring an old Amiga and getting lost in the circuitry. There's more internal melody and texture here (and several frantic meltdowns) than Fell's music has had for a long time. By the time the suite reaches its final minutes those high-strung notes are desperately trying to hammer out a chord progression before falling into abject silence.
"That Side" isn't a radical departure from its counterpart, but it focuses on rounder and more dulcet tones. It accumulates texture and polyrhythms, until it's a swirling fractal of refracted light. It's Fell rendering a disco ball out of his imaginary frequencies. The result is, again, aurally captivating, faking accessibility without actually giving listeners that much more of anything to grasp onto. Which is his neatest trick of all, really: Periodic Orbits Of A Dynamic System Related To A Knot might be his most listenable album yet, but it stubbornly resists deconstruction like the rest of his work. It's tempting to say they sound more human now, but who really knows? At any rate, this is forty more minutes of challenging computer music, and continues a hot streak for one of the UK's most consistently interesting producers.
A1 This Side
B1 That Side