JOHN CHANTLER: The Luminous Ground (Room40)


Posted on Apr 5th 2011 01:26 am

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John Chantler: The Luminous Ground

The Luminous Ground
Room40 2011
06 Tracks. 39mins50secs

Can music be ‘created by machines’? This is often the starting point of one of the main arguments hailed by detractors of electronic music, who see electronic synthesis and computers as the cold and inhuman antithesis to music played on ‘proper instruments’, by human beings. Yet, machines can’t work on their own. They cannot power themselves, have no natural creative will and depend on human interactions to even exist. Machines have to be programmed in some way, and, like musical instruments, are only as good as their users.

This is what John Chantler investigates with his latest album, published on Room40. For the last three years, he has amassed a handful of electronic devices into a modular set up which now regularly serves as a platform for live experimentation, and is here put to extensive use to create a rather intriguing soundtrack where human interaction and accidental machine input both play equally important roles. The six untitled improvised pieces are incredibly dense, forever morphing into new forms, switching from randomly generated sound formation to rhythmic motifs with no apparent order or rule. Under Chantler’s control, the machine becomes alive with rich tonal sequences which, while always evolving in totally unpredictable ways, do so with great fluidity. There aren’t any melodies as such here, the generated patterns never materialising in anything substantial enough to qualify as a fully developed theme, yet the repetitive characteristic of these patterns create accidental musical fragments which often vanish as quickly as they appeared as the synthesis process continues. And this is as much these fleeting moments as the auto-generated sounds which continuously fascinate here. While Chantler undoubtedly understands out to create these sequences, there is something totally ephemeral in the resulting recordings as sound clusters continuously disintegrate. None of these patterns can ever be reproduced in that exact same sequence.

While the sonic range can appear somewhat narrow on first impression, it is actually quite vast, extending from deep rumbling low ends to extremely high-pitched piercing high ends, and from clear and sharp to extremely saturated and distorted. The mood follows, at times harsh and abrasive (A1), austere and introspective (B2) or sombre and oppressive (B3), at others peaceful and dreamy (A3) or surprisingly pastoral (B1). Chantler alters the emotional aspect of this record by simply working on specific tonalities and continuously moulding them, each piece displaying subtle variations in its own scope, while all sounding very distinctive and unique.

There is a strong correlation between the machine’s random sound and pattern generation and the human control to which it responds. Chantler actively seeks the incidental aspect of what his machine is capable of creating, yet he is ultimately in charge of what is happening and constantly influences the end result, making this record a truly hypnotic aural feast.


John Chantler | Room40

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2 Responses to “JOHN CHANTLER: The Luminous Ground (Room40)”

  1. Asdff.Anonon 10 May 2011 at 11:57 pm

    I’m so glad I read your review. This is easily the best album I’ve bought in ages. It’s like my favorite parts of Fennesz’s Venice. So lovely. I tried to get people interested on watmm but to no avail. If people would just give it a chance on a decent stereo or earbuds I’m sure they’d fall in love with it. So great.

  2. THE 2011 REVIEW | themilkfactoryon 22 Dec 2011 at 1:12 pm

    […] CHANTLER The Luminous Ground […]