The music on Uwe Schmidt’s new album was programmed, engineered, and mastered by an algorithm. And after he heard it, he was so intrigued with his performance, he finally broke free from conventional song writing culture. Here at ACL, we are no strangers to AI. See for example our warm review of Emptyset ~ Blossoms (2019). For this Atom™ record, even the press release is machine generated. Fittingly, our review also uses Artificial Intelligence. See if you can spot the cyborg sentences. Whilst advances in AI capture the public imagination, there are concerns about automating human activities. This includes artistic endeavours, where the territory between machines and creativity is still being charted. Perhaps the best you can do is build a computer that will work for you. We’re here! We’re here!
Regular readers will remember seeing Schmidt on our Best Electronic Albums of the Decade list. However, his genius is not in any single album. He is a relentless, chameleonlike innovator across styles of electronic music. Through meticulous experimentation, Schmidt creates all of himself and takes his work with him when it’s time to mix it up. His entry on Discogs.com lists more than seventy aliases. An algorithmic version of his trademark moniker should be no surprise from an artist who continually shape-shifts in aesthetic and identity. Schmidt plays bass from different angles and with different speeds, creating his music out of different parts of his body. I wish I could say that Uwe Schmidt sounds like a rock star, but I don’t really know what that means.
Much of Neuer Mensch has a tightly coiled dancefloor energy, closer to hardcore techno than any previous Schmidt project. Fiercely restrained beats make relentless patterns at rapid BPM. Highly synthetic melodies come in sparse bursts. Pulsing bass rumbles uncomfortably to our squishy biological core. Distorted but clinically clean: these are the sounds of a rhythmic machine, busily staffing an automated operating theatre. Across the second half, some tracks have a lower BPM, giving a spacious but still urgent atmosphere. This feels akin to Electronic Body Music, stripped back to its bones and dried out from the sweaty cyberpunk warehouse scene. This is an experience. You have to go through the physical and the emotional to enjoy it. The album is all about finding the balance. Whichever industrialised club genre the algorithm approximates, this is the mechanically jubilant soundtrack to a Borg invasion of your planetary system. In a futuristic dystopia, civilization is infiltrated by alien, robotic technology.
Of course, we could programme a machine to use warm, organic, utopian sounds. Would that sonic palette seem less befitting of an AI musician? Such preconceptions must shape the algorithm, as much as the algorithm shapes the music. A standout track, “Sex”, ironically tackles the most biological of subjects. With its bouncy acid textures, tapping percussion, and an inaudible vocal looped into a chant, this captures a little of Schmidt’s tongue-in-cheek humour. It doesn’t compete with “Sexuality” (2005), one of my favourite Atom™ earworms. Schmidt can be reassured: he is not entirely replaceable by the machine.
Schmidt has received praise and accolades for his work and has garnered critical acclaim. He is most likely to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He recently announced the completion of the staggering eight-year AtomTM_Audio_Archive project. With his back catalogue painstakingly remastered and reissued, the “neuer Mensch” might be Schmidt himself, as well as his programmed collaborator. (Samuel Rogers, with help from DeepAI’s Text Generation API)