Caught by the River

The Sound Beneath

Alistair Fitchett | 12th November 2021

The third in a loose trilogy of high-concept sci-fi records, Pye Corner Audio’s ‘Entangled Routes’ — a contemplation of mycorrhizal networks and attempts by humans to listen in and communicate — is out today on Ghost Box records. Alistair Fitchett reviews.

Like many I was greatly saddened by the passing of Richard H Kirk earlier this year. Like many too of a certain age, it would be fair to say that the sounds of Cabaret Voltaire helped me into the landscape of challenging electronic music, and if that landscape has remained a somewhat peripheral one throughout my past forty years or so, it would also be true to say that there are delicious periods when it drifts into a position of profound value and influence. Yet Kirk’s passing had me bypassing a return to The Cabs and revisiting instead some of his solo work from around the mid 1990s when Warp were putting out those terrific ‘Artificial Intelligence’ collections. I seem to remember there were some turned up noses (and tuned away ears) at the time. People making disparaging comments about coffee table techno and electronic music for middle class drawing rooms. The flames were stoked with Warp calling these sounds ‘electronic listening music’ and the dancers put their hands in the air and dribbled something about esoteric chin-stroking. Or, more likely, just dribbled. Of course it is entirely possible that I have misremembered all of this, but you would not have to push me hard to tell you that I would rather listen to ‘Reality Net’ than just about any Cabaret Voltaire number these days.

It strikes me that the Ghost Box label have inhabited similar landscapes of electronic listening music throughout most of the 21st Century, although admittedly one perhaps populated by folks daydreaming more often of The Owl Service than Autobahns. It’s certainly a landscape, for me, of push and pull; inexorably drawn by something in the mediated nostalgia for illusory, imaginary scenes collaged from scraps of reality and lashings of suburban mythology, yet at the same time repulsed by that very same set of images projected onto my cortex by social streams constantly reconfiguring the/my past. It wasn’t ever like this, was it? Which is, perhaps, entirely the point. We remember nothing except what this moment has placed in our memories; different now than then, altered again tomorrow. It is a cop-out of course to wallow in the idea that nothing is real, but (for artists certainly) there is surely some solace to be found from inhabiting constructed spaces. We slip, Houdini-like, from the chains of the everyday and dissolve into gardens where we feel more secure. A different Kirk beamed to a parallel universe. Spock With A Beard. And so on and so forth.

Science, fiction, fantasy, nostalgia, nature. Take your pick and mix. The Ghost Box label have certainly done so, and perhaps Pye Corner Audio more than anyone over the past decade with a string of recordings that have developed individual personalities whilst being recognisable as members of the same family. To cast back into the past again for a moment, didn’t we used to say that we loved each new Autechre record because it sounded exactly like a new Autechre record? That’s an ideal for loving, isn’t it? Celebrate the sameness as much as the changes. 

With Entangled Routes we find Pye Corner Audio (or Martin Jenkins, if you prefer) burrowing, metaphorically, into the loam of our landscapes to explore the mycorrhizal networks to be found there. These networks are an intriguing phenomenon in and of themselves, yet perhaps as fascinating is the way in which their relatively recent ‘discovery’ by modern science-infatuated humans echoes more ancient, instinctive and spiritual relationships to visible and hidden landscape and its energies. It is this balancing act between the ancient and the modern, the spiritual and the technological that the music of Entangled Routes engages with, as Jenkins plays with the notion of interaction with these subterranean, subliminal networks, imagining a communing of spirit and energy. Tree-hugging taken to new heights, or depths, perhaps.

One hardly needs to embrace the folkloric sci-fi concept of Entangled Routes to enjoy the record but keeping at least an eye (even a witheringly cynical one) on its core premise certainly does help the sounds conjure visions. Opener ‘New Roots’ gently probes the darkness before pulsing into earthy light, whilst ‘Synaptic’ taps, blips and bops like freshly exposed nerve endings caught in a cocaine shower. Underworld in the underworld. The trilogy of ‘Paleolith’, ‘Earthwork’ and ‘The Creeper’ meanwhile encourage drifts further down into ancient depths, listening into tales of Cthulu filtered through a faulty radiogram beneath layers of mulch. ‘Hive Mind’ and ‘Growth Potential’ witness the power pulsing back into the earth, with the presence of ages getting its groove back on, punctuated briefly by the pitter patter of sunbeams piercing the somnolent gloom of ‘The Clearing’.

‘The Long Now’ is Elliot Gould in subterranean twilight, swimming in an Altman interpretation of a John Dee vision, whilst ‘Phantom Orchid’ is the EVP of ancestral mycelium. Finally, ‘Leaf Mould’, ‘Buried Network’ and album closer ‘Symbiosis’ feel like another triptych. One of those delicate little pieces of 15th Century Dutch religious painting, perhaps. Joos van Cleeve glimpsed through the kaleidoscope of pagan hallucinations. There is rhythm and piety; distance and seduction; mistrust and faith; industriousness and solitude.

Ultimately then, Entangled Routes sounds like the new Pye Corner Audio record. Perhaps a shade more so or perhaps a shade less, but none the worse for that, and proof that Martin Jenkins and his Ghost Box home are less about the past and more about parallel presents and possible futures. Burrow deep and embrace the pleasure.

‘Entangled Routes’ is out now. Buy a copy here.