June 5, 2016

The Inheritors

William Golding, best known for Lord of the Flies, considers his 1955 novel - The Inheritors, to be his best. It follows one of the last remaining tribes of Neanderthals as they make first contact with strange, godlike beings... homo sapiens.

Now, more than 50 years later, this classic piece of work is finally getting a soundtrack! It took James Holden 7 years to deliver this groundbreaking record that fearlessly pushes into new territory but it has been worth the wait. It's hard to describe but it sounds a bit like a mix of krautrock & shoegaze mixed together with techno ideas and a rave ethos. He crafted The Inheritors using his extensive analogue modular system and hand-coded computer programs, which he used to build a series of unique analogue-digital machines. The result is something far removed from the clean overly produced dance music of today.

Hypnotic. Raw. Tribal. Powerful.
Struggle. Life at its peak. Beautiful.

An analogue|organic machine is dying, crying for help cause it doesn't want to lose what it loves but it's doing so triumphantly because it believes its love was great and will not be replicated. Holden desperately tries to keep it alive, infusing it with digital space magic. Life is always more beautiful on the edge of death and here Holden nudges us beyond that edge. Frankenstein's monster was misunderstood. Welcome to the war between organic chaos and digital structure... or are they making love? What will the inheritors make of the past that brought them to be?

It's definitely something to be experienced. The album comes in at 75 minutes and is designed to take you on a trip.

Some more background on how he arrived here; he's approaching the creation of trance from a scientific perspective.

"The driving factor behind being in a “trance state” (that is, transcending your standard conception of “the self”) is thought to be a universal property of the brain. Brainwave entrainment is the act of causing various body systems to synchronise by altering the frequency of brainwaves. “Entrainment” is a physics term, referring to the fact that two vibrating bodies will synchronise if exposed to one another for long enough – it’s what makes two people walk in step, it’s what makes an audience applaud in time and it’s what makes a couple fall asleep at the same moment.

It’s thought that this effect can also be achieved with an audio stimulus. In preparation for his performance at the Barbican, James Holden researched some of the science behind altered states and found correlations between playing music and different states of mind that, in his own words, blew his mind. The theory of sonic entrainment suggests that the brain will synchronize to an external rhythm – it means that two musicians playing music at the same time are actually synchronising brainwaves. Whilst the normal, alert brain’s frequencies are usually between 14 and 22Hz, they’re slightly slower whilst playing music – around 8-14Hz. Crucially, the brain is in a similar state whilst meditating, or, indeed in a trance.

If everybody in a room is focused on one audio source, then brainwaves are synchronising, putting everybody into a similar state of mind, creating a collective consciousness. Ensuring that everybody is (literally) on the same wavelength is important if the state is to be maintained. “We’re naturally sensitive to those around us,” says Holden, “In the same way that if someone near you isn’t into it, it can ruin the effect.” This might go some way to explaining the almost instinctive annoyance that comes with seeing people who are glued to their smartphones or bringing up Shazam at a gig – it’s not just distracting, it’s literally putting you into a more alert brain state.

This isn’t to imply that the entire phenomenon is down to suggestion. Particular frequencies often recur in religious and ritual music – Indonesian gamelan music, for example, uses ultra high frequencies that are nearly impossible to record, and these are allegedly what create the trance phenomena. In Yoruba-derived drumming, it’s the tiny delays in timing that create miniature moments of tension and release in the deeper drum tones. Ultra low frequencies are attributed to having strong psychic effects, something that experimental art groups like Throbbing Gristle experimented with.

Besides, there isn’t really one golden recipe to achieving this state – tastes vary and people perceive things in different ways. “The event’s producer set up a meeting for me with Vincent Walsh, a cognitive neuroscientist at UCL.” Holden says, “It was near the start of my research, and what I was basically asking him was: is there anything in the science that I can take to make more effective hypnotic music? His response nailed it: he told me to go with my instincts. Music has had thousands of years evolution towards this purpose, musicians spend a lifetime intuiting how to achieve these results.”

“And that’s the take-home fact,” Holden says, hitting the nail on the head: “Our subconscious intuition is the best bit of our brains. I couldn’t do the maths to tell you where a thrown ball would intersect my arm’s reach, but I could probably catch it.”

Renata - a girl's name of Latin origin, meaning "reborn".

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