Squarepusher / Z-Machines

Music for Robots

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Electronic madman Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, has always dealt in futuristic sounds. Whether crafting some of the more frantic drum-n-bass rhythms ever put to tape or sewing together rubbery basslines and multi-colored electronic textures into his own breed of short-attention-span funk, there's always been something superhuman about his music. Music for Robots takes the superhuman/non-human element of Squarepusher's sound to both its logical and literal conclusion, offering up five tracks composed by Jenkinson and performed completely by robots. Jenkinson spent part of 2013 working with a team of Japanese roboticists, coming up with original pieces of music far beyond the capabilities of even the most skilled human instrumentalists. The Z-Machines, a 22-armed drumming robot and a guitar-playing robot with the equivalent of 78 fingers, run through five pieces on Music for Robots that are immediately recognizable as Squarepusher material. Dead giveaways come in the form of the scattershot rhythms and head-spinning, MIDI-transposed arpeggio runs of "Sad Robot Goes Funny," and the slow, melodic build of "Dissolver," which breaks out into anthemic, neckbreakingly quick rhythm patterns. Jenkinson's jazzier impulses come through on the EP's quieter moments, as with the airy intro "Remote Amber." The experiment is an interesting one, and the skill of these music-playing robots is without question, but even at their most frenzied and expressive, the performances here rarely rise to the level of excitement of even the blandest Squarepusher track. As impressive a feat as it may be to create robots that can play IDM in real time, there's something empty here that comes with the lack of an emotional core. Even the music Jenkinson makes completely with computers by himself has more of a push than the automated tunes that feel more dispensed than played on Music for Robots.

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