Art is a mediation between the material world and the intellect. Artists dream up ideas, but then must constrain them in available forms – sonnets, sculptures, watercolours, concertos. In the exegesis to his “Trillion Byte MP3 Harsh Noise Work” (2011–12), British experimentalist JLIAT notes: “there are always actual physical limits which the artist as practitioner has to deal with. An exception might be (true) conceptual art”. As half the patrons at a modern art museum could tell you, the value of conceptual art remains in the intellect. The visible, material form is not the art, only a rendering of it. The remaining 50% of punters will ask who cares about self-referential posturing, unless something looks, sounds, tastes, or feels good.
Emptyset is a partnership of James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas, two musicians active in the production, release, and celebration of contemporary electronic music. Their musical output has centred on installations, and other site-specific sounds. Blossoms is partly a reimagining of that work, a selection of which is fed into a custom machine learning system, along with 10 hours of improvised recordings. Fans of Star Trek will recall Lieutenant Data, who could play the violin by mimicking hundreds of human performers, but struggled to invent his own style. In the era of machine learning, we are better equipped to imagine artificial intelligence that not only organises and explores available information, but also creatively learns from and adapts it.
As the conceptual work of Blossoms is rendered in sound, listeners may seek out the joins between the original artistic vision and the impulses of the autonomous machine. The pay-off is in realising how fruitless and arbitrary that search becomes. As the name Blossoms suggests, the album sees the organic and the mechanical coming together. At first glance, there’s a jokey irony in naming tracks “Petal”, “Bloom”, or “Stem”, when the sonic pallet is anything but floral. Abrasive, metallicized ambience comes and goes; percussive throbs stop short of becoming beats; crashing waves of bass continue to crunch, throb, and oscillate.
Parts of the album resemble the experimental fringes of bass music. This is where grime might arrive, were it left to evolve in a laboratory, redefining itself away from the beat-driven rave. As the concepts give way to good feelings, the irony of the title evaporates. These are truly the sounds of a blossoming emergence – of an ersatz flower, opening for the first time under stark, fluorescent light. (Samuel Rogers)