It’s common to wonder how some event or other would be completely different had any of the conditions that produced it been slightly different. In a world where techno-buzzwords abound, where accessibility to the realms of computing led not towards further complexity but to its streamlining – to the point that part of the nostalgia for 90s and 00s software is intimately associated with openness – it is significant that many of its forms of play ring hollow. Popular Monitress could be the name of a pop computing mag, one of those full of tips on how to assemble a machine out of uneven parts, motivating its readers to experiment with this or that approach while referring to bugs, walls of fire, fishing spelled with ph, mice, or some medieval Scandinavian king whose nickname was “Bluetooth”. Beneath the clutches of data-driven profits and beyond the worship of techno-prophets lies a world full of fantasy, a form of play that is not gamified, but remains connected to aesthetic freedom one way or another. Wobbly’s latest album, replete with awesome cyber-concepts like “Motown Electronium” and “Futility Funktionen”, seems like having emerged from an alternate present in which all sorts of electronics remain true to the possibility of free play, of wired daydreaming and beats that grow from something other than industry.
With a full roster of iPads and iPhones as well as synth and MIDI programs, Wobbly weaves a unique horizon in which all those sounds usually originating from electronic devices we’ve become used to, from the chirps of vintage videogames to the analog soothe of classical instrument jingles, are remade anew. This is a configuration of our collective soundscape in which all those aural elements are liberated from their contexts, a cybernetic collage in which the system’s self-regulation is geared not by efficiency but expressiveness, the articulation of surprising and fundamentally fun interactions with no purpose other than to be listened to.
It’s impressive how much Wobbly can do in less than a couple minutes, sometimes even in just nine seconds – the density of the material strikes in a way similar to getting one of those errors in operating systems that suddenly displays the program’s linguistic guts, the marvel of a (musical) language stretched to its limits and having to break down. The awe that such intricacy elicits in this listener points towards the level of complexity achieved by late 20th century modernists*, and it suggests that Popular Monitress is truly like an emissary of a parallel world of electronic sounds. In it, the buzzwords are not links to the market, but to the imagination. They do not restrict meanings in the interest of catching your data, but burst them open, turning a “Help Desk” jingle into a psychedelic, noisy carnival fanfare tune; in it, the “Synaptic Padberg” is not just a catchy name for a neural network, but a suggestion of byte-winds howling through the bandwidth, brushing against hidden caches and forming unexpected connections between them.
Such a music is far from easily described with words, but what I want to get across is not only that it is dense, like a forest of wires, it is also extremely fun. It is often dance-like, humorous, and sweet: “Thoughtful Refrigerator” takes a grave industrial rhythm and fills it with bouncy beeps, modem tones, and electronic toy squeaks, as if it was a hip-hop track of an old machine singing out its stream of consciousness. Popular Monitress is full of such musical flights of fancy, its baroque slant a joyful excess of sounds being amassed and then unleashed to run wild into a cyberscape almost like our own. In it, we, machines at our side, are able to smile with wonder at creations unburdened by efficiency, entirely profit-less, and eminently expressive of new horizons. (David Murrieta Flores)
*It is relevant to this review, in a random way, that a comment on a Youtube upload of Brian Ferneyhough’s “Terrain” (1992), referring to the notation, reads: “these charts look like a wiring diagram for a space ship”.