Pye Corner Audio
With his second LP for Ghost Box, Martin Jenkins sends his sinister alter ego, The Head Technician, deeper into the uncanny valley of 2012’s Sleep Games, to a hallucinatory ’80s landscape of throbbing sci-fi electronica and luminous synthetic strings built around themes of deep space, suspended animation and sensory deprivation.
Martin Jenkins, AKA Pye Corner Audio, has rapidly become the master of a certain type of haunted, deep space electronica, where the woozy beats and melodies are about moving the mind as much as the feet. Stasis is described as “the soundtrack for an interplanetary voyage under suspended animation”, and the music it contains lends itself perfectly to getting lost inside the half-lit corridors of some vast interstellar craft. Like other Ghost Box regulars, PCA humanise electronic music’s machinery, creating a myriad of analogue emotions. The slow motion disco of ‘Lost Ways’ is dark and ominous, and underpinned by a sweeping, sinister melody. `Ganzfeld Effect’ begins with the giddy sounds of a synthetic carousel before an insistent, acidic bass line intrudes. ‘Sleep Chamber’ is warm and intimate, while the hypnogogic earworm of `Ways Regained’ is strangely disquieting. A somnambulant trip through the cosmic void, Stasis is PCA’s strongest album to date.
There’s a moment near the end of John Carpenter’s The Thing when the power goes off in the Antarctic research base, leaving only Kurt Russell and the remainder of the film’s cast stranded under the blue emergency lighting. It got back inside and blew the generator,” Russell growls. “In six hours it’ll he 100 below in here.” “But that’s suicide a cast member protests. Not for that thing,” Russell replies. it watts to freeze now. It’s got no way out of here. It wants to go to sleep in the cold until the rescue team finds it.”
Before his 1982 reworking of Howard Hawks’s The Thing From Another World Carpenter had inserted a tribute to it in his first Halloween movie. A clip from the 1951 science fiction classic is seen playing on a television set in a late 1970s suburban lounge, the stentorian martial soundtrack, played by a full orchestra, contrasting starkly with the icy electronics of Carpenter’s minimalist Halloween score. On first listen, Stasis, the latest release on Ghost Box from Pye Corner Audio’s Martin Jenkins, could be mistaken for the soundtrack John Carpenter and Alan Howarth might well have created for The Thing if Ennio Morricone hadn’t stepped up with his own baleful set of orchestral variations on sub-zero tension.
The theme of suspended animation, cryogenics and sleep is spelled out in two quotes on Julian House’s sombre, ensigmatic cover design – one from Arthur C Clarke’s novelisation of 2001:A Space Odyssey and the other from Ursula K Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven. Interestingly both fictions make reference to the electrophysiological monitoring of sleepers – in other words, how the inner activities of the seemingly inactive are surveyed and recorded. In this respect. Stasis is an EEG playback of bodies and minds slowly approaching the “100 below” state that consumes The Thing. As such, the album charts a much deeper state of consciousness than the one outlined in Sleep Games, its Ghost Box predecessor. However the tension seems less brittle – the mood less fragile and tentative. The rhythm generators come in a little heavier, and the chattering repetitive keyboard lines are more incisive. This is altogether a bolder and more controlled exploration of what should seem like familiar territory by now.
“Autonomation” marks another bleak and brooding return to the kind of soundtracks Carpenter and Howarth created in the early 1980s for Escape From New York and Halloween III. The protracted “Heart Of The Stasis”, the centrepiece of this collection, recalls Tangerine Dream’s score for Sorcerer, William Friedkin’s 1977 remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. And yet both remain breathtakingly strong tracks that stand up to repeated listening. Rather than make up his own movies, Jenkins is happy to play the movies that are already running in our heads – and we are happy to let him do it. Every track shows the confidence of someone who knows exactly which buttons to push and when. “Lost Ways” slithers around the brain, its vocoder refrain hinting at some half-formed memory, while the intricately stacked and coolly insistent sequencers on “Vorsicht” linger long after the fact.
Music this knowingly proficient finally exists only as allegory or metaphor. Its meaning exists within the gaps provided by the narrative: in other words by what it doesn’t say. Two tracks in particular stand out, if only by their close proximity and thematic correspondence to each other. “Sleep Chamber” is a muted take on the kind of placeholder moment in horror movies when something resembling human emotion is briefly introduced into the narrative, “Ganzfeld Effect”, on the other hand, could very easily be mistaken for an outtake from Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series.
The choice of titles on Stasis points towards a slightly different story, however. “Sleep Chamber” contains an echo of the sensory deprivation experiments conducted by Dr. Ewen Cameron in Canada during the 1950s and 60s aimed at wiping out the troublesome personalities of psychiatric patients through an enforced programme of chemically induced sleep coupled with the endless repetition of verbal instructions recorded onto magnetic tape. Victims would emerge from his sleep room to find that their personal memories of family and friends had been totally erased – many were not even aware of the situation until visiting hours came around. Meanwhile the ‘complete field’ of “Ganzfeld Effect” references the kinds of hallucinations or neural noise produced by staring at an undifferentiated visual source. Both point towards a level of perception that exists well below zero: one in which the human either slowly disappears, leaving no trace behind it, or is drowned out by an advanced form of lucid dreaming.
Stasis is the soundtrack to a shift that has already taken place without our noticing it. The life of any culture is to some extent dependent upon remaking – no one is going to mistake Carpenter’s The Thing for Hawks’s 1951 original, or Friedkin’s Sorcerer for The Wages Of Fear. Power resides to a similar degree in the precise mechanics of reproduction. In the neoliberal economy of the self, however, our identities are defined by how we respond to the latest reboot – what memories are shaken loose, which assumptions reversed, and do you still care?
What Stasis offers in its place is an advanced aesthetic of replication: something that looks and sounds familiar and yet remains alien. Its deepest and most lasting effect lies in its ability to provoke doubt and foster suspicion. Electronic music, it turns out, has never been a carrier signal for something collectively perceived as inhuman – in fact the exact opposite is true. It is all too human. Carpenter’s unnamed alien assimilates the characteristics of other living entities so completely.. the copy is indistinguishable from the original. Consequently it can replicate itself across an entire planet. Stasis takes us down to the edge of 100 below reveal what is sleeping deep within. Will a rescue team find us before we wake?
Back in 2012 Sleep Games by Pye Corner Audio quickly established itself as one of the most engaging and enthralling albums of modern times. On the record, ghostly electroncia, John Carpenter style synths, and epic, ambient soundscapes converged to create a body of work which still sounds awe-inspiringly beautiful today. After the melancholy acid of his Head Technician reissue last month, Martin Jenkins returns to his Pye Corner Audio alias late August with the haunted landscapes of the Stasis LP. Conceived as a sequel of sorts to the aforementioned Sleep Games, Stasis is a rich, evocative listen that already seems destined to sit proudly as one of the albums of the year. Just listen to the low bass throb, vocodered vocals and ominous air of early track Lost Ways to hear exactly what I mean. Deep, dark and immersive, this is electronic music that speaks directly to the soul. Other highlights include the hazy ambiance of “Ganzfeld Effect”, the 80s style pulse of “At the Heart Of Stasis”, and the mid-paced acid swell of Pulse Threshold. Yet, from start to finish the standard never once slips, ensuring Stasis is an album in which you can happily lose yourself for hours on end. 10/10.