John Matthias & Jay Auborn ~ Ghost Notes

Ghost Notes is a collaboration with a robot that displays facets of an A.I.  This “robot drummer” is a series of hammers connected by wires to computers and a drum kit; solenoid magnets translate audio signals to voltages, after which the robot drummer is supposed to play a certain way, but sometimes does the unexpected.  As the setup is conducive to live performance, John Mattias, Jay Auborn and their metallic friend are free to improvise at any moment.  The observer might call the static blasts and rhythmic departures “glitches,” concluding that the contraption is having difficulty interpreting the signals from the duo, but it’s more exciting to anthropomorphize.

“Dive Into This” adds fun of a different category: the dance of an office worker freed from the daily grind.  What begins as a drone (in this context, a word with a double meaning) develops into a compact symphony.  The office worker is himself robotic, before breaking from his (literal) programming.  At the same time, the computer seems to have a mind of its own.  Is the office worker glitching or dancing?  Is he controlled by electrical circuits, like a puppet, or displaying autonomy?  The video, even more than the song, serves as an overture.  Props to the director for not making it a dream.

Given what we’ve learned, the beginning of “Long Time Dead” is a curiosity, the drummer rattling around in the background before the melodies enter.  Is this what a robot does during down time?  One begins to look for intention in the notes, as well as the hits.  When live performers improvise, are they led by a plan, a muse, or a firing of synapses?  What is the ultimate source of creation?

These may be ready themes, but the album is infinitely accessible, the piano and violin a balance for the beats.  Like the office worker, listeners may be led to get up and dance; but again, will this be an impulsive or intentional decision?  What propels a person to a dance floor when one is not specifically invited to dance?  The pulsing glitches of “Auto Psalm Engine” are Kraftwerkian, but still have soul.  When the drummer “tires,” the organic performers tag team in.

“Vodka and Coke” closes the LP.  After sharing its energy and ideas, the robot drummer is unable to drink this concoction, and must settle for a flask of oil.  Fortunately, after its most striking display of autonomy, it has the strength to go on for two bonus tracks (available as digital downloads with purchase of the LP).  In addition, another A.I. participates in the album’s images, accessible by QR code.  Neither the electronic nor the organic element overwhelms the other; such a balance bodes well for future science fiction/science fact collaborations.  (Richard Allen)

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