- It's one of the conundrums of laptop music: when there's no direct link between gesture and sound, how do you make a performance engaging? The live coding scene has found an idiosyncratic solution: performers improvise live, and the streams of code they're feeding into their custom-made software instruments are projected onstage. If you've not been to one of these "algoraves," you can get the gist from a video published alongside Renick Bell's debut for Lee Gamble's UIQ label, Empty Lake. It's not easy to see a connection between the dense torrent of text and Bell's strange sounds, which multiply and cluster like propagating cells. But you can sense the real-time human effort behind the music, and the results deviate from the familiar contours of DAW production.
The EP itself, which contains five tracks coded using generative software, lacks the visual element but retains the spidery sound palette and fascinating, slantwise logic of Bell's music. Sometimes he seems to be responding to existing styles. Opener "Trying To Control The Four Winds," in particular, sounds like recent efforts to dismantle grime, only Bell is using a different set of tools. (The title—a good one for a track that uses generative processes—was derived from the I Ching, as were the others.) But it mostly seems pointless to look for familiar reference points in Bell's world—only Autechre have explored similar alien zones.
Bell's disorientating rhythms tend to be paired with chord material that frays and glitches as if disintegrating in multiple dimensions. Sometimes the effects can be quite meditative: "The Well"'s chords are gorgeous fluid shapes that pool under dubby drums, while "Transforming A Fault" is built around wandering, guitar-like tones. But mostly Empty Lake tends toward overload. On "A Deluge," freefalling drums collide with glitchy synth work in repeated viscous pileups. On "Surface Waters Flow Together," Bell's mutating rhythms fight to be heard over chords that gleam bright and hard like polished metal.
A1 Trying To Control The Four Winds
A2 The Well
B1 A Deluge
B2 Transforming A Fault
B3 Surface Waters Flow Together