On their album, u, i, released this week by 130701, long-term musical collaborators Olivier Alary and Johannes Malfatti explore themes raised by a modern life lived in the internet ether. Sonically examining how this existence – of course – is dependent on technology, and how increasingly, and especially at the moment, our “human”, “social”, interaction is mediated, and limited, by machines and this tech. The album`s title, u, i – you, I – is a nod to SNS` abbreviation of information. The on-going evolution of language into a universal code of acronyms, that I guess in theory should see us united.
The album has its origins in the artists` own intercontinental conversations – between their respective bases in Montreal and Berlin. While working together on project – film soundtracks and TV scores – they became intrigued by the way that differing video tools – VOIP, Voice Over Internet Protocols – varied in quality, therefore transforming the nature of their transmissions. Realizing that by altering parameters, such as bandwidth, they could “play” these VOIPs like conventional synth plug-ins. This resulted in the pair bouncing prose and music back and forth through loops of said tools and creating a conceptual piece from the fragments. Using not only their own dialogue and compositions but also anonymous clips discovered on media feeds – chosen to represent the “human span”. From a toddler learning to speak to a grandmother lost in reverie, reciting childhood songs. Dissecting the idea that a whole life can now exist out there, on-line, and how these net-based memories are subject to their own digital decay.
Ambient sounds of rain and passing traffic disintegrate into snatches of singing in a haunted, Lynch-ian landscape of drone and hum – where the familiar is made not so. Salvaged, stuttering, sad symphonies, as if lifted from a glitched memory (stick) – further broken by sparse, plaintive piano, cello, and violin. Edges of melody melting, barely there. Reduced to worried remnants, textures – gritty and granular. Pocked by time`s dust. The aural equivalent of a yellowed photograph, with dog-eared corners – carried, creased, and caressed too much. Pulses in the static morph into deep space signals, busted beats and aching arcs, like the shredded stream of an ancient interstellar shoegaze rave. Reaching us from lightyears away. Blasts of full Philharmonic bombast are blurred, smudged, and hurting. Sharp shards of an orchestral scream. Fanfares are torn from the fabric between radio-wave frequencies to form an Eno-like elegy. French is translated into an incomprehensible alien tongue. The various narrators interwoven in a musique concrete collage, where late night thoughts are bugged, but their privacy maintained by a process way beyond encryption, designed to test and break fidelity. Still an incredible intimacy and an air of eavesdropping remains. The album`s artwork is a similarly processed portrait of Alary and Malfatti. Snapped side-by-side, then sent in two directions at once, up and down a system of countless servers and undersea cables, they are now co-joined – data-loss, rendering the image post-human and unrecognizable. I initially thought the shot resembles a flame. A foreshadowing perhaps of a future fire fueled by The Singularity in which we’ll burn.
Olivier Alary & Johannes Malfatti`s u, i is released by 130701 this Friday, September 25th.