Monday, 23 June 2008


Although many assumed it to be the case, Gescom were never a mere dangleberry hanging from the hairy backside of Manchester anti-dance duo Autechre. Or were they? It's hard to tell, given that the exact personnel behind their frequently anonymous releases remains a closely guarded secret, or at least one its keepers can't be arsed to make public. Perhaps it's more productive to speak in terms of what has been suggested. In which case, it has been suggested that Gescom is a collective involving up to 30 individuals including Autechre's Sean Booth and Rob Brown, noise terrorist Russell Haswell, Darrell 'Bola' Fitton and Rob Hall of Skam Records.
Minidisc was originally released in 1998 on the OR label and was the world's first Minidisc-only release. One of the selling points of this shiny new technology was that there was 'zero seek time' between track flips, something that now comes as standard on most digital media. It was Gescom's intention to exploit this feature, so they came up with 88 tracks designed to be played at random, theoretically offering the listener a brand new listening experience every time they pressed 'Play'. It reads like a smug contrivance, a clever-dick irrelevance. But when you listen to Minidisc in sequence it's impressive but ultimately really fucking dull, an interminable trudge through chops, bits and bytes seemingly designed to show off just how crazy a few geeks can get with a jolly bit of DSP. It's soulless, shallow, tiresome.
Use Minidisc in the manner its makers intended, though, and the project instantly comes alive in your ears. The juxtaposition between industrial drone and chopped-to-fuck hip-hop beats, twisted metallic klang and flatline hum creates something utterly compelling in its rapid-fire weirdness. Each of these 88 fragments work so well as random elements (rather than constituents of a fixed, finished whole) that the result forces a revision of how we listen to music, perhaps also foreseeing our culture's current predilection for Party Shuffling brief tinny bursts of digital sound. Of course, you could pull the same trick with any album. The crucial difference with this one is that you're meant to. And Minidisc is remarkable because it only becomes a coherent, cohesive piece of music when chance is allowed to configure its pleasures.
Hmm... did I say pleasures? Minidisc is much more noise than electronica, more Whitehouse than Boards Of Canada, and digital is perhaps the ideal format for noise lovers of a masochistic bent. Whereas analogue synthesis is generally mimetic of the sounds of the human body, the clean crackle of digital is alien and therefore instinctively threatening. When it doesn't sound sharp, brittle and invasive, it sounds crushed, fibrous and itchy. There are times when, listening to Minidisc, I recall the sting of fibre-glass on my hands from years ago, the tiny fragments stuck beneath my skin and the angry irritation that resulted. Digital isn't malicious or capricious, as analogue often is, it's merely uncaring and austere, a robot reconstruction of how things should be. This, of course, makes it fascinating, especially when users give up attempting to humanize its null flow and instead focus on the very lack of nourishment at its centre. Those seeking pain from their noise may have found a perfect, distant dominantion in its cold embrace. One of the things that characterises Gescom's - and Autechre's - music is an interest in sound as object in itself, rather than conveyor of meaning or emotion, which itself is suggestive of the dissociative nature of fetishism.
But there is poignance as well as blind sensation to Minidisc's constant flux, a layer of melancholy attributable to the fact that this album has been reissued on the very same format the Minidisc was designed to supplant. It's an acceptance of failure. Minidisc therefore enters a second lease of life as a requiem for futures past, a hymn to obsolescence.