Renick Bell’s Turning Points is challenging in its non-conformity. It’s challenging to the club space. You go to the club to dance and lose yourself a little bit. You go there to be yourself, or just be whoever you want to be.
It’s not traditionally a space to sit and think deep thoughts about the universe. You don’t sit there and consider all the connection points of two database tables. You don’t mull over a coming singularity and our increasingly small role in this world, or calculate when exactly we will lose our jobs to the growing AI workforce.
This album, on the other hand, makes you think like that. Parts of it feel to me like I’m opening my math book and I’m about to do some fuckin’ problems. For some of you who are shit at math, that might sound like a nightmare, but I don’t mean it in a bad way. It makes me feel like one of those nerds who just loves doing their homework and got straight A’s all through high school and college. And maybe went on to get a Masters. Heck, even a Doctorate.
It’s just a thought-provoking sound.
For lacking any memorable melody or bassline or rhythmic structure that could be mimed, it is a music that’s hard to get out of your head. It’s cinematic, but that doesn’t mean it’s incredibly ambient. There’s an unapologetically sci-fi quality to it.
Autechre turns out the lights and batters their audience when they play. What does this do? Is the algorave scene yet another branch underneath the umbrella of IDM, or is it something else entirely? I guess this kind of batters you, too. In its own way.
There is no beat to nod your head to or tap your foot against. Each piece is the opposite of quantized, swaggering to and fro, set by the pace of triggered events. The effect is an aural vertigo. You could close your eyes and imagine yourself playing a cyber arcade space shooter, each slug your spaceship fires and each incoming volley against your metal plating a sound its own.
But the music is more sophisticated than to be bottled inside of a 2D scrolling shooter. It has roots in club music and IDM and the unknown cybernetic future, whether it be dystopian or utopian – it’s hard to tell from Turning Points.
While it’s clear from the algorave scene at large that there is some amount of programming involved with the music, its very nature and extent used in the pieces is an unknown. The notes for Turning Points list Renick Bell as doing “live coding” on this release, and it somehow sounds like it.
As with total serialism, it’s possible that most every aspect of the music is computer-determined. The rhythm is stochastic, but whether that is human-programmed or algorithmic is hidden to the naked ear. On the other hand, the sound font is strict in design. And, in a way, the continuance of a non-pattern is itself a pattern.
Turning Points plays like a corrupted sequencer, or maybe an MPC that was programmed by some alien who marginally understood the form and purpose of club music. An approximation that becomes something else by way of its mutations away from the source material.
“Acquiring Discipline” is an immediate standout. Percussive and charged. “Without Words” is also incredibly engaging, and makes clear the different densities that each of these pieces have. We’ve been traveling through an asteroid field with varying levels of turbulence.
A unique approach lends to countless iterations for Renick Bell’s tried and true sounds. Turning Points uses a similar color palette to previous Renick Bell works, though maybe with greater density and variety on this release. Still, their sound can continue mutating within these parameters.
Turning Points is out on Seagrave Records, a cassette label with a great illustrator.