Ricardo Donoso is difficult to define. On the one hand, he’s part of the wild experimental duo Perispirit; on the other, he’s the curator of the Kathexis label, whose last release was Alex Menzies’ subtle soundtrack to Order & Disorder. Then of course there are his own productions. Machine to Machine is the third Donoso work we’ve reviewed this year, a rare coup. Prolific artists tend to stretch themselves thin. Not so Donoso, who continues to impress with high quality and sonic diversity.
Those who enjoyed Sarava Exu‘s two opening tracks, which came across as experiments in industrial beat management, will find plenty to love on Machine to Machine. In one sense, the album marks a return to more melodic forms, while in another it’s a clear step forward. A far more cohesive effort than Sarava Exu, Machine to Machine follows a single sonic path from start to finish and is better off as a result. To state the obvious, it would have made a wonderful alternate score to Ex Machina, with its smooth surfaces and dark undercurrents. It even has an overture: the memorable, dramatic “Akrasia.” A six-note theme (two sets of three) is augmented by blasts of pure, sleek synth. The android is awakening.
After this, the album presents a set of smooth, even-tempoed tracks, each of which could fit on a 12″. The Tympanik label comes to mind, as do the early works of haujobb. As soon as the bass drops in “Axon Terminal”, the dance floor is open. Donoso can call this whatever he likes (“a meditation on priming with and without awareness and a treatise on the psychophysics of our contemporary age”), but why ruin the fun? The Technics are spinning, the strobes are flashing, the DJ is beckoning. It may seem like we are not taking the artist seriously, when in fact we are taking him very seriously. This is difficult music to make well: complex yet inviting, rough-hewn yet melodic.
Three-dimensional effects are apparent throughout; at times it seems as if the music is being played atop other music, as in the opening minutes of “The Stretching of the Cord.” Donoso uses the full vertical range of volume, often withholding the loudest parts for greater impact. At times the synths suggest a choir (“Some Buy the Locks”), while at others the chimes make us forget he was ever in a death metal band (“Dance of Attunement”). Donoso understands that the secret to making quality industrial music is a balance of light and dark; the machines are only our friends until they are not. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 31 July