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Guest Playlist #05: c / a [Postlapsarian humanity required learned magic and its artifice and artisanship]

As anonymous artists go, London’s c / a are, well, pretty anonymous. They exist online amidst a tangle of emojis, glitched Unicode, impenetrable song titles, links to essays by Plato and their own M Ξ T A P L Ξ X, a “constantly evolving virtual environment” in which users can lose themselves in “games… artworks and experiences.” 

My interview, I’m rather proud to say, is the first c / a have ever conducted about their work. That’s if I was even speaking to c / a: to throw another spanner in this rather complex soup, the conversation I had was with someone (or something) by the name of ecolagbohrsac2021 – a shadowy c / a collaborator credited on THE ONLY WAY WE KNOW TO HAVE FUN as a featured artist for whom a quick search brings about another dense tangle of bizarre electronic works. It’s an acronym, apparently, for ENGLAND’S COUNCIL OF LEGISLATION AND GOVERNING BODY OF HYPER REAL SIMULATIONS AND CONSTRUCTS. It can all get a bit Dark Web, the c / a universe, which I suppose is absolutely the point – the further you burrow, the more you wonder whether you should even be there.

“I can’t say the level of mystery has that much of an importance,” begins my contact. (I should say this interview was conducted by email, but in my head I read their words in one of those deep, slightly muffled voices they use on TV when they’re trying to protect someone’s identity). “Personally, I have never enjoyed attention and just want the privilege of being left alone to do what I do. Plus, I am one of those who can sort of feel the effect of social media’s damage on humankind’s attention span and hormonal feedback systems in the long run.”

With that in mind, it is tempting to view the c / a web presence not as a form of artistic escape, but as an attempt to involve browsers on a deeper level, to go beyond the facile surface into a realm of absolute engagement, although it definitely performs on both levels. I remark that I am reminded of people like Ryoji Ikeda in the way c / a operates; the way in which the track titles, visuals and obscure links can feed into one another to complete a whole, immersive experience in which component parts nonetheless stand proud and successful. “Of course, I’m a big fan of [Ikeda’s] work,” comes the response. “I think it’s a fact that a common feedback amongst the people who have heard/seen [c / a] work so far is that it creates this sense of a full, inhabited and relatively ‘lively’ world. I too would like to think that within the cauldron that contains the videos, the text and the music itself there certainly is this sense of a deeper lore but music is always the master and all the rest, such as film-work and text, follows the sonic world.” Yes, that text: the long, confusing and oddly poetic track titles; the non-sequiturs on the new LP’s jacket that refer to Nick Drake, “medieval interrealiti love stories” and “The Foundation of Protecting Moths from Falling into Coffee Mugs”; and the obscure symbols in lieu of recognisable letters. All combine to provide a typical c / a release with a dangerous allure – you can spend hours searching for clues and answers as to what the hell is actually going on. 

The secret, it transpires, is less than straightforward: “I have always felt like the more an artist attempts to communicate regarding the context/nature of the work, the more undermined it gets, but I simply can’t help taking notes or giving extensive track titles these days,” ecolagbohrsac2021 explains. “Maybe leaving the track titles aside, which sort of are an integral part of the work itselfbut whenever I am asked to write a few lines about the work, or asked after a show or something, I really want to vanish into thin air. [I] also have a ton of notes within my private chambers at the same time – perhaps one reason the titles are very detailed is that I simply can’t decide on one, as even for me context fluctuates almost on a daily basis and are about more than one thing, or are different takes on the same thing...

As you’re probably well aware by now, some of this makes for difficult transcription. Yet I’m loathe to over-edit, speculate or clarify – there’s a twisty lyricism to some of the stray reminiscences that pepper my correspondent’s replies that only serve to propagate the c / a mythos, whether it’s intentional or not. Take, for example, the turn a question about the c / a creative process works: “I can see me trying reach back to someone I really cared about and loved in the past. I hear what it would mean to be able to tell her how much I valued her presence in my life. The problem was that towards the end of our relationship my addiction to massive multiplayer role-playing hentai games started to take its toll and things were never the same again. I would be willing to wipe away all my studies involving Orch OR and musical creation just to be able to spend a day with her or maybe even share a meal at McDonald’s.” I’m never quite sure whether I should be taking the answers seriously or not, if whether “the modus operandi of medieval scribes” (they were, apparently, “deeply embedded in a remix culture”) really has anything to do with c / a, for example, or that the new LP actually did “feed off the sun” during Covid (“I am sure there is something sacrificial about it – I think it’s not hard to decipher that by looking at the track titles…”)

The manner in which c / a wipes categorical disks with such ease speaks to their “post-genre” mission statement. They know that to escape classification you must first destroy the concept, and that’s a perilous business they approach with nihilistic relish. “Maybe we should just have called it electronic music,” says ecolagbohrsac2021. “This album had one simple idea behind it, which was to turn on a few synths and mess around – I mean, the only thing that is essentially fun. I think I also sort of like to delve into my solipsism and try to decipher what actually could be a somewhat neurological path of some of the compositional choices I made myself. For example, during the quarantines, pretty much like anyone else, the local parks had a huge role when getting out and I usually would take longs walks, sometimes listening to demos with my headphones on, and sometimes just enjoying the the bird songs. There sometimes would be people at the car park cranking up some tunes from their cars and the sound would be somehow even cooler from a certain distance, blended with the natural sounds. Now that a year has passed since these tracks were made, listening to them I go back to such moments (which back then to me didn’t even seem like they had relevance to the actual sonic landscape of the record), so possibly there is a relatively non-associative feeling about it, which comes from a much welcomed disconnection.”

So how does c / a square something like “[Postlapsarian humanity required learned magic and its artifice and artisanship],” in a genre-less world? The mix – which, I might add, is an Underscore exclusive – features artists across numerous genres, from mid-90s prog to the smoky Turkish chanteuse Okay Vivian, albeit in a form mashed together with farmyard sounds and blasts of harsh noise. “I think any musician who says they are not directly influenced by other music is blatantly lying,” comes the answer. “But in this case most of the tunes on the mix are mostly inspirational because of a single connotation they might have. However mental this may sound, I believe that in a self-loving person’s attempt to openly clone a track, something that is quite unique [can] show up whence the divination is complete.” It does sound a bit mental but go on… “However, agreeing that most of them are bound by a genre, I must note I am a big fan of all the artworks featured on the mix and most do have a very personal importance, such as Porcupine Tree’s ‘Sever’ – I mean it is the track that the album’s name derives from and possibly my favourite ever tune after ‘Drugged’ by Bass Communion.”

Oh… before you listen, you should know one more thing:

“Collaged from recordings of radio tower interferences on headphones and what in memories are left from the sonic landscape of the late spring and early summer of 2020 [when THE ONLY WAY WE KNOW TO HAVE FUN was being produced], this mix sheds some light on the musical influences and the subtext of days spent reading, cycling and failing at mixing clap sounds.”

[also, said radio interference was “absolutely dreadful, as I was almost certain it was the moment I was going funny…”] 

[also, I have reason to believe that their will be a further two c / a releases before 2021 is out, one of which is titled THE OTHER SYDE]

We hope you enjoy listening.

[Tracklist]:
Crystal Palace radio interference 01:38AM07062020 [each dreamed text is a terma in the mind]
The Eccentronic Research Council – Mental Illness in Art as Explained by an Amateur Psychologist Sponsored by Google
Mick Gordon – Urdak [DOOM Eternal OST]
c / a [feat. ecolagbohrsac2021] – Docile Goetica [extended version]
Emilio de’Cavalieri’s ‘mysterious enharmonic passage’ performed by Alice Borciani & Johannes Keller
Okay Vivian – Hayalet Bitki Bebek Doğuyor
Mick Gordon – Meathook [DOOM Eternal OST] (personal mix)
Carolyn Coulson – Troilus & Criseyde installment 1
Jordi Savall – Stella splendens
Anathema – Temporary Peace [spectral resonance remix]
c / a [feat. ecolagbohrsac2021] – Fucking with an online date at a beautiful natural spot somewhere in the Beckenham Place Park
Hodge – Cutie vs David Sylvian & Robert Fripp – Bringing Down The Light & field recording
Crystal Palace radio interference 04:21AM28062020 [an unidentified acid track and random sounds from a medieval village?]
Poppy – Screammmm
Porcupine Tree – Sever [THE ONLY WAY I KNOW TO HAVE FUN]
Crystal Palace radio interference 02:36AM02062020 [???]
ecolagbohrsac2021 – THE GATE 2 THE OTHER SYDE [<lipstick> print ‘love’, divine(response.data) / demo]