If ambient consists of an environment built and modified, then field recordings consist of an environment interpreted and described – the first has architectural leanings, while the second is more in the spirit of looking at the world as text. So what happens when, with a bit of humor, you make both come together? I am not talking, of course, about the use of found sounds in a wider composition nor the humanist intent of musique concrète, but the union of the conceptual underpinnings of both genres into a music that is fundamentally systemic, made by machines for machines in a mode of communication that is forever speaking of mathematical wholes. The result is an imposing feeling of vastness, of echoes growing echoes, of an infinity that, like many of the stars we see every night, has already ended and yet we can still gaze at its life in all its brilliance.
Jupiter is a Cosmic Vacuum Cleaner is based upon the collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter as observed in 1994, an event from which astronomers were able to deduce that the largest planet in our good old solar system attracted and absorbed a great deal of comets and asteroids that would otherwise impact upon the surfaces of the rest of the planets. Using the ‘sounds’ of Jupiter’s magnetosphere as collected by the Voyager 2 in 1979, Scott Lawlor processes the aural qualities of our very own cosmic home appliance in order to construct a place of electronic beeps, scratches, and drones, while at the same time presenting us the way in which the spacecraft ‘interpreted’ the function of the planet. It is significant that the study included in the liner notes, written by a NASA scientist, reminds the reader that even if the waves’ frequencies are audible to humans, it doesn’t mean that we could hear them as they are, first in and then from space, as we would a field recording: a machine hears for us, a machine listens and interprets according to its own (by now) dated equipment, generating its own noises in the process, one in which there is only a machine-to-machine communication, one in which there is no artist to make a second take, to look for an appropriate location to place devices, to listen first and then decide to make art out of what is heard.
In this way, this album is both ambient and field recording, situated amongst those rare explorations of the music of the spheres, of the music generated by a system that in principle we can understand but is still out of reach, both aurally and conceptually; its drones, while human, also feel irrevocably other, strangely harmonious in the manner only engines and electric devices are often capable of being. It is true ‘space music’, all signals, all unknowns and humorous – but apt – analogies that can only highlight a cybernetic intuition that details the encounter as a deeply mechanical recognition of interconnectedness, because to every tone there is a semi-tone there is a micro-tone there is a noise that drones, on and on, something we are not even being able to notice without the constant reminder that we don’t know how most of it works. The only thing we know is that there is something keeping it all together, but the way this album works makes even that seem alien, always already out of reach, always already expanding into yet another electronic sound originated deep inside the bowels of some machine or other, be it cosmic or earthly. (David Murrieta)