The Polyphonic Demo joins a very special list of vignette albums that incisively approach the ‘industry’ of musicmaking, whether with an ironic cutting edge (The Residents, Jon Rose), or with a more earnest, almost naively inquisitive method (Yasuaki Shimizu). Headboggle rests squarely in the middle, with its suggestion of incompleteness, even amateurishness (it’s a demo, after all) finding echo in the experimental qualities of its sound, the “madeness” of its 44 one-minute tracks always pouring at the edges, a constant reminder that you’re listening. Whereas the Commercial Album or the Violin Music for Supermarkets are meant to irrupt the passivity of consumerism and the Music for Commercials is meant to immerse listeners into it, the Polyphonic Demo’s myriad jingles are all bursting at the seams with humor and childishness: it is impossible to be immersed, but it is also impossible to be completely detached at an ironic distance.
As strange and obvious as it sounds, it means that you’re always aware of your listening, that certain sounds make sense and others don’t, that maybe this one track is background music but then it’s over all too soon and it’s time to think already about something else. The Demo guides you through a variety of aural experiences, almost labyrinthine in nature, its synths sometimes doing little pop numbers and sometimes doing harsher drones, but never consistently. That’s not a jab – it takes a master craftsman to be this simultaneously precise and broad, to suggest deep listening bits within one minute as often as superficial, sentimental music that sticks in your mind only to be replaced by some weird, uncanny, noisy arrangement of a kids’ lullaby mere moments afterwards. It’s the polyphony of the social media timeline, its algorithmic twists and turns of disparate data pieces aligning to make something that merely appears “whole”, but that if you start scratching beneath the surface you’ll see just how fragmentary and nonsensical it all is. Like these tracks, social media exceed their own limits, but not in the heroic, transcendental sense – they exceed themselves in the same way that a damaged water fountain starts to seep over its design template. The best part is how they take listeners with them: I feel like there’s no use describing tracks individually, but I cannot really manage to describe the whole album itself beyond metaphors and comparisons: that’s how you know this is great experimental music.
That is why this could be described as the jingles of the social factory, more “up to date” than the other vignette albums, with every little 1 and every little 0 attempting to craft public identities, the efforts overflowing at the sides with awkward interactions, terrible turns of phrase, catchy posts with thousands upon thousands of likes that will be forgotten by tomorrow. Never mind the cool slickness of vinyl: this comes in a CD-ROM, with all its shiny unfriendliness (one of my first lessons re: any CD was not to grab it from below – I might leave a smudge and risk it not playing), its dorky associations to the turn-of-the-century internet a nod towards its multiplication of the radical imaginations of neophytes. Funnily enough, it might be a much better companion to our times than the wireless, cornerless pretensions of contemporary designs; the playfully, joyfully “sloppy” and “unpolished” character of Polyphonic Demo mirrors electronic music’s true coming of age as popular, as horizontal, as utopian as all the silly digital lives many of us have built for ourselves in the past few decades. Self-conscious and self-aware, these tracks show themselves like so many a social media profile, with a bad photograph here, a spelling mistake there, a lack of a bio, a generic account with no content (and yet is not a bot), your family’s comments interrupting a flow of self-construction, a message written and deleted over and over again, etc. (David Murrieta Flores)