Too often, electronic music is perceived as being cold, unemotional and entirely cerebral. It is perceived more like an afternoon on the Mario Kart controller or building a custom MineCraft universe than legitimate "art." While, yes, there is a certain amount of design and engineering at work with the incredible, laser-like precision available to the digital producer, this modernism is in service of the art, same as an era. Instead of working with grandiloquent symphonies, however, bedroom producers are bending, shifting and sculpting bare sine waves into moving, endless technological paeans to eternity, entropy, decay and all manner of other thermodynamic laws of the universe that might have been difficult to express with wooden acoustic instruments.
To put it simply, this music isn't unemotional. It's just describing a different sector of emotions, more in tune with the weird and wonderful world we're living in. Iteration is the most recent LP from Norwegian producer Magnus Bugge, full of glowing, ambient synth textures that sound like the sun setting over a mountain range, or perhaps a cityscape of polished glass.
It's tempting to label this as "pop ambient" in line with the popular series from Kompakt records, as there are definitely melodies, harmonies and song structure to hang the gorgeous, elongated synth textures over. This is no aural wallpaper in the Eno-esque sense of "ambient music." Rather, this is the human side of ambient, or a human being attempting to come to grips with the larger-than-life forces spinning around their ears.
Amazingly, Iteration was put together in a small apartment in Oslo, which was then polished to perfection up the road in Lars Sparby's studio. You'd think this was captured in Abbey Road, so lush is the ambiance, but that's the joy of electronic music. Even space is mutable - and nothing is as it seems.
From the liner notes, "Iteration is about movement despite standing still. Being stuck, but slowly getting to that other place. Changing, without anyone noticing. Turning into a ruin of your former you, shedding your skin, and becoming the next iteration of yourself." A grand conceit, which serves as a nice bonus, or an interesting story, rather than being a necessary hook to hang this album on. This music stands on its own. Taken in this context, however, there IS a feeling of dissolution and decay.
Things start off relatively concrete with "Decay" and "Deep Time," although still being extremely subtle, mellow, dreamy and distant. The sound waves start to break apart, weathering around the edges, starting about the midway point with "Iteration" and "Skyglow," although the swooning pace continues, relatively undisturbed.
The feeling I was left with - my own private narrative, if you will - is of an individual, either staring out the window, or else moving through a modernist environment, perhaps on foot, perhaps via another mode of transportation. The only thing that's certain is that any person in the world seems to bend and melt and blur in the peripheries of their vision.
It sounds highly antisocial, almost bleak and despondent, but there is a positivity to this kind of urban dwelling, as well. Sometimes being outside of things helps you to see them the most clearly. Sometimes, watching life spiral and drift around your eyes and ears makes you feel MORE connected, more empathetic; just in a slightly distant and detached way.
It's the thing that people forget about urban living. Yes, we're supposedly all detached, running with blinders on through the rat mazes of our lives, but this neglects to factor in the random conversations, the inspiring art, the moments of serendipity and almost cosmic awe that are sometimes possible.
Iteration is a stone-cold pop ambient classic, in line with Eno's Ambient series that gave electronic ambient music its name, along with the dreamy decay of William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops and the warm emotiveness of Fennesz's Venice. As a lifelong worshipper of these elongated strains of electronic ambiance, this is the highest possible recommendation I could give. Don't be surprised if other works of poetic electronic music are compared to Iteration in ten years time.
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