- Of all Gerald Donald's non-Drexciya projects, Dopplereffekt—established in 1995—has most successfully endured. Where Drexciya imagined an underwater world populated by the children of pregnant women thrown off slave ships, Dopplereffekt, the duo of Donald and To Nhan, fetishize science. If not for the occasional vocal sigh, their expansive and lonely electro might sound like music made without any human input. But Dopplereffekt have a surprising pathos, a melancholy more pronounced than Drexciya's. It's a trait that might seem unlikely for a group so obsessed with machinery, but it's surfaced on their records for the Berlin label Leisure System, who helped revive the once-dormant project. Dopplereffekt return to the label for their first album in ten years, one where the beats fall away and expose the duo's haunting melodies.
On the ambient Cellular Automata, negative space dominates. The empty sprawl of their last album, 2007's Calabi Yau Space, was equally naked, but it could also feel alienating, even confusing. Here, Dopplereffekt zoom in on the elements that disturb the silence. Simple sounds feel bold and physical. That might have something to do with the album's title and concept. In a cellular automaton, individual cells interact to form step-based patterns or structures. Each of these tracks is like a close-up of the fragments that make up Dopplereffekt's music, without drums or many of the other components that have previously shaped the duo's sound.
If Cellular Automata is one of Dopplereffekt's most ambient records, it's also one of their most powerful. Nhan and Donald's brittle synths are as heavy as panes of glass, and their icy chord progressions send a chill through the music's metallic surfaces. The thick, congealed bassline on "Von Neumann Probe," the particulate sounds of "Pascal's Recursion," the buzzing electrical sounds on "Mandelbrot Set"—every track has a vivid texture.
Most of the album presents strange, mystifying fragments, but on "Isotropy" everything briefly comes together. Like Dopplereffekt's showstopping "Delta Wave" from 2013, it's a lesson in economical arrangement. In physics and mathematics, isotropy refers to complete uniformity, and the track is nothing if not in perfect harmony. Moments like this make Cellular Automata the duo's most mesmeric record to date, but the beatless approach also makes it one of their most shadowy. It's a deeper and more intimate look at the duo, who remain as enigmatic as ever.
01. Cellular Automata
02. Von Neumann Probe
03. Gestalt Intelligence
05. Pascal's Recursion
06. Ulams Spiral
07. Mandelbrot Set
09. Exponential Decay