A decade ago a Welsh man woke up in his camper van and strangled his wife of almost 40 years to death. After 10 months in prison on remand, he was cleared of murder and walked free. The man suffered from pavor nocturnus ~ commonly known as night terrors ~ and attacked his wife believing her to be an intruder. He was in a state of automatism.
Making a welcome return to our pages after a few years’ absence, Eugenio Caria examines the concept of unconscious behaviour on his new LP under his SaffronKeira moniker. The erudite sound researcher always tackles subjects as weighty or abstract as they are expansive, and combining such cerebral scale with his minimalist electronic soundscapes makes for another fulfilling marriage here. Automatism is patient and vast, probing for corners of the human mind but finding only further space. Synth pads and textures build in layers but never risk straying toward opacity; for where there is thickness there is obstruction, and the unconscious mind perceives none.
The set’s first third drifts patiently into view after a brief overture, “Aesthetic of Surrealism” gradually disclosing celestial pads and synth lines rhythmically or melodically embryonic. A shadow of dark ambience looms through this and piano-based “Atti Riflessi”, but we remain in its penumbra, able to escape should we desire. Not that desire has any place in the subconscious. More detail emerges over the following tracks. Gentle beats start to give form to the nothingness, and wordless vocals lay wreaths upon reality.
This emerging complexity blossoms in the captivating “Replication Without Variations”, where cellos scratch over wet, popping sounds before unexpected swells of strings and horns zoom the camera out from the minute to the mighty. The title of this piece alludes to another form of the album’s theme: surrealist automatism. Developed by the surrealists of the early 20th century, it was a means of sketching or painting while suppressing the conscious mind. Caria here focuses on a modern variant of this involving the use of artificial intelligence to create or replicate works without any human intervention. While this can be put to good (this AI painting sold at a Christie’s auction for $432,500 last year), its potential for more sinister purposes is obvious.
This duality of fear and fascination of what the subconscious ~ or an artificial “conscious” ~ can manifest lies at the core of Automatism (hence the cover showing one eye present, the other absent). But as the set develops, Caria conjures new, unexpected forms that demand the bodily responses of movement and dance rather than incessant, conflicting contemplation ~ the pulsing beats and glitchy synths in “A Pattern Didn’t Exist” a particular trance-like joy.
Crucially, nothing serves to check the expansiveness established from the off, and when “Suppresses Conscious” repeats its arpeggiator and drawn-out bass line as though on a loop unceasing, it symbolises the reaches of both our minds and Caria’s ability to entrance them completely. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)