William Gibson has long inspired the landscape of electronic music. Most recently, Mumdance, Logos and Shapednoise named their collaborative project The Sprawl, after his mid-1980s trilogy of sci-fi novels. References to his imagined universe litter music writing and criticism, an easy shorthand for dystopian menace. Now, Italian artist Morkebla has named his latest release Ono-Cendai Cyberspace after the high-tech simulator of those novels that facilitates a connection to the digital world. It’s out on Baroc, a relatively young Cologne-based label that has released eight records in two years.
Ono-Cendai Cyberspace opens with ghostly synthetic strains, like a chorus from inside the title’s computer, somewhere between Aguirre, Music For Airports and Total Recall. Textures smudge and jump, building towards nothing, eventually stopping dead like the plug’s been pulled. “Derm”, its title another nod to Gibson (it refers to a Nicorette-like patch with which to administer drugs, medicinal and narcotic) follows the MIDI pattern of the opener, trudges steadily to life, its kicks frantic and haphazard. Chords and keys overlap, uncertainty abounds. Is this the effect of the drug or does the drug provide release from this confusion?
The slight chug of squelching synths follows in “De-Ghost Metalink”, with even more unsettled percussion and a chirping melody that seems like a simulacrum of a Carpenter score, remixed and reified for this century. It dances on in time without soul but full of cyberpunk energy, robotic and militant. “Hypnovel”, named after a sedative, feels like a monastic chant, a moment of drug-induced joy inspired by Morkebla’s time spent under the influence following surgery on his hand. An incoherent voice utters unknowable phrases, and strange melodies are interweaved through impossible time signatures, the liminal confusion of sedation made musical. The restless drumming patterns that characterise this release extend beyond each phase, new synth lines representing new feelings and states of being (pained, drugged, digital).
Initially, this writer listened to the release at 45rpm, and so my understanding of the music as a whole was of it being wild, frantic. Enlightened, I returned to a body of work that was calmer, steadier, though no less unnerving. The dank stomp of “Floor-Melting Smileys” is rendered even murkier at this slower speed, a sickening yet defiant shuffle of detuned claps and kicks. Echoes swirl, a chill runs up the spine. Dark and cold. The trance-like arpeggios of “ASFR Lover” are unearthly, digitally exotic, as befits the title (which refers to alternative/adult sexuality fetish robots). Once again, overlapping melodies run counter to traditional notions of form and harmony, the effect nauseating and thrilling.
Does “The Third Place”, which generally refers to the a space between work and home (a useless binary for many), refer to the internet? It is hardly a separate entity, encompassing our lives, swallowing the time we spend at work and at home. The track is almost celebratory, machine-gun rattles and rolling bass kicks beneath howling chords. How else to end this conceptual beast? The voice of the release breathes its last, a sonic ouroboros that jumps to life when the record is flipped.
Morkebla – Ono-Cendai Cyberspace is out now on Baroc. Buy here.