Music Reviews

Squarepusher Ufabulum

(Warp) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

“Arpeggios often remind me of bacteria,” Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, wrote online about the fourth track off of his newest album, Ufabulum. The track, called, Energy Wizard is a typical register of Jenkinson: it evokes the feeling of shopping for Pokémon inside the mall of a cybercity made of a binary system of ones and zeros; think of it as a network where the language of electronic code, much like the language of musical harmony, is structured so that its energy optimistically praises the industrial, the mechanical, and the ultra-efficient. Comparing anything to bacteria is the kind of association that makes me feel more alive as a listener, and in that aliveness, pay more attention to the shifts – call them molecular – of the drum-clatter colliding in space with Jenkinson's manipulated bass, 8-bit synth pixels, and the Oort cloud-esque ornamental sound-dust, alert also to the silences, those small, eerie quagmires between beats when the music scuttles like microorganisms realigning themselves in a petri dish.

Much of Ufabulum sounds like it could be part of a video-game soundtrack, or, like in the case of track 3, called Stadium Ice, part of the opening credits for a Japanese TV animation...I'm thinking of Sailor Moon. There's something about how these tracks activate complicated astrophysical sequences dense with mathematical run-off that makes them have hi-speed, cyber-virtual effervescence: like as if the music itself, its layout, its structure, its patterns, its inputs, and its outputs actually started as formulas – X being divided by Y squared while also being subtracted from A being multiplied by the cosine of the right angle of B, the sine of C, and the square root of three million multiplied by pi. Of course, as a veteran electronic maker, Jenkinson's hardware language is way less Einsteinian than that, but one can't help thinking that IDM producers (Aphex Twin, Muziq, Autechre and others) are constantly faced with struggling to muscle their music into the drug-hazed atmosphere of the rave floor despite their music's nativity being a computer-based experience, a bedroom experience, a cyber creation thats cyberness was always a self-referential component of cyberculture. If that's the case, Ufabulum is Jenkinson completely submitting to half-danceable, half-playable gamelike production; its the music of a first person shooter we'll never play, scripted of its encoded environment, existing in an everlasting conundrum of gluttonous media-overload, insular from the flora and fauna of the natural world, yet always trying to breach its emotions. It reminds me of Borges, whose theories in such short stories like “The Garden of Forking Paths” and “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” were astute in reminding us that in each moment, there is the infinite possibility of other moments, happening in other universes, in other plot points of time. Ufabulum's ten tracks emulate those theories, they gush forth like quantum versions of an infinite amount of versions, musically pathogenous in spreading anywhere and everywhere.

Of the IDM juggernauts already mentioned, Jenkinson is the odd character in the bunch, because unlike the others, he's a skilled bass player who has a passion for bringing electronic music and, of all things, funk, into the same matrix. A typical Squarepusher concert will have him manipulating hardware with a bass strapped on; he plays quite like Jaco Pastorius, except he plays along with the pre-programmed music he has ready, stored inside his sequencers. Although he hasn't quit his bass-playing, Ufabulum's press photos – showing Jenkinson donning a strange, motorcycle helmet-like structure with an electronic screen geometrically embellished with bright, white orbs – suggest that the emphasis of programming has returned, albeit as the music of some electrofabulated superhero. If anything, it's a costume that can assure fans that the once extinct sounds of his programming are still teeming, not just as bacteria, but as a living, breathing, cyberorganism.