Review of Field [12k2039]

Fluid Radio (UK)

Shuttle358’s “Field” is a surprising return to the tangled digital turn-of-the-century roots of both the artist and the 12k label, yet to my ears it retains the tendency to draw inspiration from nature that has come to characterise much of 12k’s output over the past twenty years. Digital birds chirp in lavishly, though sometimes glitchily rendered landscapes; solar-powered bees buzz their mechanical wings above the clockwork heartbeats of mice and frogs. Trout lurk at the bottom of the lake, crows hop, and wind gusts. And permeating and illuminating it all is a low late-autumn sunlight, fading yet still warm.

Aficionados of analogue synthesis often laud the way in which minute discrepancies in voltage and current can introduce a desirable imprecision and unpredictability to the sounds of analogue instruments, comparing this favourably to the perceived coldness and sterility of digital perfection. But “Field” makes use of slow hardware and lo-fi DSP algorithms from the dawn of the current computer-based audio era to uncover that same uncertainty and flawed grace in digital sounds, with timing errors and software crashes becoming the black swans that tug the music out of shape or sometimes upend it completely. This approach is reflected in the cover artwork, which resembles some computer-generated topographical model gone horribly yet beautifully wrong; this beauty is no less moving for its digital nature.

Beautiful synthetic warmth in many shades and intensities is the overriding impression left by “Field”. The line about snows in winter repeated in ‘Caudex’ stand somewhat at odds with the hot glow of a looping synth pattern and the energy of hopping pulses. ‘Edule’ begins at a lazier pace, but becomes more urgent without losing any of its density or heat. Only penultimate piece ‘Blue’ hints at less hospitable climes, with its gusts of wind and splatters of rain or hail, but even here the sun eventually peaks through the clouds before disintegration into bursts of erratic notes. Shuttle358’s Dan Abrams may have been aiming for a classic and perhaps slightly nostalgic sound with his lovingly resurrected early-2000s tools, but the results are just as affecting and entrancing as they were back then — an unpredictable digital landscape awash with setting sunlight.

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