Zoë Mc Pherson ~ Pitch Blender

I change shape all the time.  This key sentence, located in the heart of “Lamella,” is the key to understanding sonic chameleon Zoë Mc Pherson.  A lamella is a thin layer or membrane, suggesting fluidity, or the ability to shift from one form to another, defying definition.  On Pitch Blender, Mc Pherson expands from gender terms to planetary terms, stating that Earth itself is morphing into a new identity: no small ambition when it comes to conceptual themes.

The powerful cover image intimates confidence and yearning.  Given the theme, one may also read into the image an environmental tilt, the green flash and even an alien tractor beam.  The hand connects back to String Figures, now more distinct than abstract.  In the video for “On Fire,” dancers enjoy a final bout of movement before blinking out of existence.  As an album opener, the track is eruptive, more like magma than the popular songs that share its name (Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”), bleeding directly into “The Spark,” continuing Mc Pherson’s declarative statement. “The Spark” operates as a cyber rave, swift and relentless, the dancers picking up where they left off as their particles are reconstructed in another universe.

The set is now ready for Phase II, a slow introduction of vocals and sub-themes. The almost-title track “Blender” yields the phrase “obsolete user,” as beats and rhythms fly around Mc Pherson’s voice.  The phrase may refer to a person booted from their device or out tune with technology, but on a grander scale it may also refer to one who clings to antiquated terms, or to an entire species that the planet is ready to ghost.  “Unidentified Objects” continues this theme, questioning whether beings “sense their own vulnerability,” the ground littered with synthetic body parts collected after their hosts’ demise.  And then “Lamella,” the heart of the album, offered later in an instrumental version, although we prefer the chance to hear Mc Pherson’s accusatory tone: you love controlling your enters and exits, bodies and borders.

In Phase III, vocals stutter and deteriorate.  In “Potentials,” words are robotic, suggesting a future in which consciousness is copied, making the organic matter dispensable.  “Wait” loops the sound of a New York crossing signal, inviting dancers to move while directing them not to move, a dual message that would fry the circuits of an old-time computer, but highlights one of the benefits of the human brain: the ability to hold competing thoughts in tension.  By “Power Dynamics,” A.I.s have taken complete control, the patterns more complex, the tempo still swift, although a little slower than before.

But Mc Pherson concludes with a curve ball, throwing the entire trajectory into question. “Outside” starts like an unplugged circuit or a dying battery, making the programming obsolete, ceding space first to piano, then to footsteps and birdsong.  Optimists may read this as an invitation to put down the tablet, pessimists as a sign that the world will go on happily without us.  Nihilists may push it a step further, asking if these sounds were themselves computer-generated, the machines enjoying the sounds of organic matter as we once enjoyed the sounds of machines.  No matter what one’s interpretation, the power of the artist’s vision shines through; a human who keeps changing can never become obsolete.  (Richard Allen)

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