Friday, 11 May 2012

Review: ASC - The Sci-Fi Files

Strictly speaking, this isn't an album at all, but I've come to the realisation that only reviewing albums and compilations is getting a bit limited, because there will be long-ish spells where I'm only listening to singles and EPs and so the blog goes un-updated for a week or two. At the same time, I don't want to review every damn thing I've been listening to, because that would become absolutely exhausting and reduce this blog's level of quality control, already desperately tenuous, to ruinous degrees.

Anyway, The Sci-Fi Files are a series of six two-track EPs ASC released back in 2008. ASC had plans for a lavish vinyl release with beautiful artwork, but due to publishing difficulties the series was tragically relegated to mere digital releases. I say "tragic" as someone who doesn't buy or play vinyl simply because I believe this is one of the best electronic music releases of all time, and it deserved far more than a poxy MP3 release. For me, this is really an album, albeit one that was drip-fed at the time of releases. These twelve tracks form a coherent body of work that deserves to be listened through in one sitting, preferably late at night in low light while considerably stoned.

My love of ASC is well documented here, so it's not lightly that I say that this is my favourite ASC release, probably slightly ahead of his still magnificent Intex Systems album. The Sci-Fi Files contain everything that makes James Clements' music endlessly rewarding. The music itself is an inventive hybrid of drum 'n bass styles - often minimal (and this was back in 2008, long before everyone and their dog had jumped aboard the Autonomic bandwagon), sometimes rhythmically complex, occasionally jumping into old school amen intricacy, often infused with IDM and techno genes and all bathed in ASC's ultra-moody, enveloping ambience. But what sets it out is the channel that ambience is tuned to - a particularly melancholic yet surgically clean strain of futurist yearning.

Unlike a lot of futuristic electronic music, this isn't simply "spacey" (although many tracks are still gilded with interstellar expansiveness), but rather "landscapey". These tracks are planetside, not offworld, which is a crucial distinction. They evoke images of otherworldly landscapes, often vast and glacial, of gleaming futuristic structures and bioluminescent alien lifeforms floating silently in liquid atmospheres. I guess the point here is that most space music is more interested in depicting the fascinating beauty of outer space, which is not in any way fictional. Space is fucking beautiful without the need of fiction - it's vast, haunting and endlessly thought-provoking. Science fiction is different because it's a fiction of ideas, imagination, expansiveness. It doesn't captivate simply by being set in space, and often it isn't. Science fiction is essentially fantasy, but rooted in thoughtful, more rigorous imagination, its utilisation of science adding resonance with our increasingly technologically dependent lives. You watch (or read) Lord Of The Rings and you know it has no relevance to our world, it's purely fantasy. Watch Blade Runner and you're immediately struck by how conceivably it could be the destination of our culture. Indeed, many commentators have noted how Blade Runner has actually influenced designers and architects in its aftermath, an example of how science fiction can actively shape the future it depicts.

ASC clearly understands this. He is, after all, an artist obsessed with science fiction, and these EPs are his tribute to the genre. And so the Sci-Fi Files don't simply do spaciness over and over again. They're brimming with difference ideas: the icey beauty of Earth Tones, the AI-controlled drum patterns of Holosphere, the ancestral quiescence of Defiant To The End. Although the controlling idea and general mood remains throughout, the individual tracks have endless variety to them, a galaxy of beautifully realised ideas. It's almost as if thinking about sci-fi freed up Clements' imagination to explore future soundscapes that he had never dreamed of previously.

Collated into one body of work, I cannot think of much else I love more than the Sci Fi Files. If ASC ever tops these tracks, I certainly want to be there to hear it. Twelve masterpieces of modern electronic music.

Genre: Sonic science fiction
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 10/10 

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