Review of Every Action [12k1027]

Stylus (US)

Every Action is the second 12k release by the UK-based artist Chris Coode, who goes by the name Motion. In my review of his previous release, Dust, I note that the album focuses “on creating a natural world out of digital scraps”. The work is, I said, suffused with digital scraps that have been pruned and caressed into fully realized soundscapes that suggested an imaginary nature, one that can never actually exist. In short, I really liked that album, and I looked forward to the follow-up.

However, at first, Every Action is a disappointment. The first five tracks—from “Untitled” to “Moken Edit”—remind me too much of the same crinkly, imaginary insect sounds found on that previous effort and on a whole host of 12k releases in the intervening years. These songs possess some memorable moments—the digital wine glass burps on “Funkturm” or the radio tuning melody in “Alt X”—but the tracks, as a whole, leave me bored.

Those five tracks make up about fifteen minutes of this 48-minute album. Luckily, however, the other 33 minutes are more interesting—and more fun. “Lookback Layback” starts out as a fragmented, bouncing bass line that falls apart and merges with soft melodies and static and glitches and waves of noise. It’s an impressive work, especially because it’s so wonderfully insane, yet so wonderfully organized at the same time. Then there’s “Move/Still: AV Edit”, which sounds like a backwards version of a track from Dust mixed with a smattering of warm, warbling tones. “Lazy Audio” sounds like a drunken Fennesz track (and that’s a good thing). “Making Spaces” sounds like a collection of samples from Forbidden Planet mixed together and ground into coffee; there’s an alien landscape feel (with echoing plops and bleeps), but the sounds all bounce around and morph into static and otherwise make me want to stand up and scream. “Miles Away” is a slow, melodic work that uses digitally enhanced guitar sounds (backed with lumpy, croaking frogs and hissing snakes and abusive ants) to create the impression of a rather nasty garden.

What do these songs all have in common—and how do they differ from the first few songs on this album? They’re more creative, for one thing. They also rely on more novel sounds—sounds that I don’t recall hearing on previous Motion works or even on works by other electronic artists. But the real key is their sense of play. They don’t follow any proscribed framework; they emerge as organic blobs that can take any shape or form that the listener might desire. I hear an evil garden in “Miles Away” because Coode manages to create enough bouncing, irreverent noises and mesh them together in such a way that it sounds (to me) like a chaotic, unpredictable garden.

Coode’s music is a process, a collaboration between artist and audience. Coode supplies the raw materials; the audience supplies the ears and the imagination. The first few songs don’t work because both the sounds and the music’s shape have already been drawn up, broken down, and organized so thoroughly that there’s little left for the listener to do but sit, listen and be bored. The rest of the album, by contrast, is so filled with weird, irreverent, and twisted noises that all listeners have to do is pay attention for a little while, and tiny, magical universes will open up before them. If only all music were like the good parts of Every Action.

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