Celestial Mechanic - Citizen Void – LP + 7" + Inserts

from Utter

Stream clips: bit.ly/utter10soundcloud
Phonica Records: bit.ly/utter10phonica

Utter presents 'Citizen Void' by Celestial Mechanic, a special collaboration between Kevin Foakes (DJ Food) and Saron Hughes based on the novel ‘XX’ by Rian Hughes. The deluxe package was designed by Rian and contains the LP and 7" on yellow vinyl plus an art print and press release.

Rian Hughes' novel "XX" includes a review of a fictional album based on a mysterious signal of extraterrestrial origin. DJ Food and Saron Hughes were tasked with the job of taking this review and making the album a reality. In what may be a first, the review actually preceded the music.

"XX", a Novel, Graphic, was published by Picador (UK) August 20 2020, Overlook Press (US) November 2020.

"The best genre novel of the last 25 years"
—Grant Morrison

‘This is a book which only Rian Hughes could have created, which should make us all eternally grateful that he did.’
—Kieron Gillen

‘A novel that is novel in so many ways. A brilliant co-mix of
text and graphic design in which sign, symbol and word are linguistically intertwined and reinvented.’
—Steven Heller

‘Rian Hughes is a luminescent pop culture demon.’
—David Quantick

The original review:

Celestial Mechanic: Citizen Void

Pay attention, class. There will be a test later.

Boffin popsters Celestial Mechanic are not known for making things easy for themselves or their listening public, and their new album Citizen Void is no exception. While we are welcomed in with the early promise of something that might actually resemble a good old-fashioned tune, the album seems to have been arranged according to difficulty, like an algebra exam where the simpler questions up front lull you into a false sense of security before you turn the page and – pow – get bitchslapped by the more advanced stuff overleaf.

Then there’s that track. But I get ahead of myself.

Named, they claim, after a character in an obscure SF novel by a university professor turned new-age cult leader called Herschell Teague, Celestial Mechanic don’t play music so much as construct it, writing code from which the songs (I use the term here advisedly) are generated. Genny Forster, selfstyled ‘lead programmer’ of the outfit, describes their working method: “We build compositions algorithmically, like sonic cathedrals of sound. Classical music has often used motifs that are repeated, mirrored, overlaid, stretched or offset to counterpoint themselves. We are doing the same thing here, but rather than let our intuition govern the final form, we set up parameters for the formal play and the limits of structural divergence at the outset, then feed in seed data and see what evolves. Our job as musicians in this respect is closer to that of an editor – we decide what the most pleasing results are, then use those as seeds for further layering. The complexity we can quickly build is extraordinary”.

He’s not wrong. Put to one side any prejudices you may have about a band who can release a 23-minute instrumental that sounds like removal men hauling filing cabinets around a concrete-floored echo chamber, or any preference for a catchy tune over meticulously crafted aural punishment, and listen again. And again. There is an astonishing depth to the sounds Celestial Mechanic make, a fractal complexity that can seem superficially
simple but upon closer listening gives way to finer and finer detail, a curious alchemy whereby you are challenged to sift for melodic gold.

And gold is there to be found. Previous algorithmically generated music has relied on parsing a library of existing recordings, as if being fed every number one since the charts began will enable the computer to regurgitate guaranteed hit singles to order and in the process make composers obsolete. What this has actually produced is music so bland it wouldn’t fly as an Estonian Eurovision entry.

Celestial Mechanic’s last album, Comfortably Violent, was lauded in more esoteric music circles as a thoughtful examination of the commodification of filmic body-horror imagery and our consequent inability to process the true horror of terrorist videos – in other words, inured by the over-the-top theatricality of modern special effects, the real thing has become almost prosaic. Comfortably Violent, perhaps unsurprisingly, failed to make an impression on the wallets or whistles of the general public. Comparisons to Autechre and Aphex Twin, 1970s Krautrock, or even Charles Mingus at his most experimental do little to convey the truly visceral experience; however good a review, it’s not the same thing as letting the needle hit the vinyl. Music journos, including myself, take note: the description of the thing is not the thing itself.

Citizen Void, however, may be – whisper it – a breakthrough in the form. That this is a move into more abstract territory is telegraphed by the sleeve – row upon row of binary digits set in 4 point, an exercise in postmodern typographic austerity so devoid of any recognisable human touch that it makes your Manila medical file look like a psychedelic Fillmore West gig poster with the saturation turned up to eleven.

We open with what sounds like a slow drone (I actually checked my speakers), a fugue that separates into a multitude of sounds familiar from software package bootup, shutdown and other key functions, overlaid with the bleeps, clicks and ticks of a mainframe hub.

This builds into a symphony of found sounds: there is the looped protestingsqueal of worn rubber on wet tarmac, the hammering of industrial machinery, and in pin-sharp counterpoint, unidentifiable and unsettling childlike vocalisations.

Interesting as all this is, it is just window dressing for the main event: The Signal is the standout track that the rest of the edifice has been fashioned to support. You have undoubtedly heard it by now – clocking up an astonishing 1,000,000,000 – that’s one billion – views on YouTube, more than Pharrell’s Happy, and all without anything more fancy than De-Liste’s abstract computer-generated lightshow (read: screensaver) to accompany it.

Rhythm and melody swap places like a Bangkok ladyboy floorshow, familiar musical expectations are thrown under the bus – nay, tank – then reversed over, just to make sure they’re not going to get up again. Hypnotic, intriguing, it gets under the skin, promising and then delivering more and more on each repeated listen. People have been known to leave it on repeat for hours, days even. I’ve yet to hear it too many times – it somehow remains as engaging and fresh as it did first time around.

In that deeply resonant manner of all things brand new yet somehow immediately familiar, it has the inevitability of a track that was always meant to be – less written, more discovered, like some natural aspect of the order of things that was already there and only needed to be lifted out of the aether.

Which, quite literally, it has been. It is the result of feeding the famous Signal from Space into Forster’s generative algorithm. Though credited as writer, Forster is on record as saying that it pretty much wrote itself. If this was an algebra exam, some might call that cheating.

Discuss.

–Rachel Ainsdale

Written and produced by Strictly Kev and Saron Hughes featuring contributions from Robin The Fog, Peter Harris, Alex Foakes and the voice of Alan Hughes.
Executive producer: Rian Hughes
Exclusively licensed to Utter, 2021.

ships out within 5 days
edition of 300  55 remaining

  £30 GBP or more 

 

More merch from Utter

  1. SuperEverything* – LP + Booklet + Poster
    The Light Surgeons

    Record/Vinyl

    £30 GBP

  2. Faded – 12" + Insert
    mu tate

    Record/Vinyl

    £15 GBP

  3. Barney's Maze – 12" + Insert
    Coralie

    Record/Vinyl

    £13 GBP

  4. Human Remains – 12" + Poster
    Rolando Simmons

    Record/Vinyl

    £15 GBP

  5. Black Tortoise – Black Tortoise LP + Taiyō 2xLP BUNDLE
    Vādin

    Record/Vinyl

    £35 GBP

  6. Black Tortoise – LP + Pamphlet
    Vādin

    Record/Vinyl

    £21 GBP

  7. Phantom Seance Ballett – Limited Edition Numbered & Stamped Box Set + Art Prints
    Lena Willikens & Sarah Szczesny feat. Viktoria Wehrmeister and Detlef Weinrich

    Record/Vinyl

    £80 GBP

  8. Phantom Seance Ballett – Standard Edition Box Set
    Lena Willikens & Sarah Szczesny feat. Viktoria Wehrmeister and Detlef Weinrich

    Record/Vinyl

    £30 GBP

  9. The Jaffa Kid - Acid Raver – 2xLP + Insert

    £23 GBP

  10. O Yuki Conjugate - Sleepwalker – 2xLP + Booklet + Insert

    £25 GBP

  11. Taiyō – 2xLP
    Vādin

    Record/Vinyl

    £23 GBP

  12. DMX Krew - Turn It On (Exclusive Fluorescent Green Vinyl) – 12"

    Sold Out

  13. Sammy Osmo - Schaduw Horizon – 2xLP + Inserts + Sticker

    Sold Out

  14. Mutsumi - Mutsumi – 2xLP + Insert

    £21 GBP

  15. The Saturn Star – LP + Booklet
    Jorge Velez

    Record/Vinyl

    £23 GBP

  16. Insect-Talk – 12" (No Sleeve/Insert)
    O Yuki Conjugate

    Record/Vinyl

    £14 GBP

  17. Insect-Talk – 12" + Insert
    O Yuki Conjugate

    Record/Vinyl

    Sold Out

  18. RGBPM – 12" + Signed Print
    Trevor Jackson

    Record/Vinyl

    £15 GBP

  19. Lux Laze – 10" + Poster
    Jack Latham / Daniel Swan

    Record/Vinyl

    Sold Out

about

Utter Lewes, UK

Label founded 11/11/11
by Alex Egan

contact / help

Contact Utter

Streaming and
Download help

Redeem code

Report this merch item or account