Posts Tagged ‘Shanzhai Acid’

Not Applicable – 4th March 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Instant disorientation is the effect of hitting ‘play’ on Isambard Khroustaliov’s Shanzhai Acid. What the hell is this? Woozy drones and amorphous waves or warping wisps ripple and blur, and hums like a swarm of drunken bees weave precariously through an alien soundscape. I’m accustomed to experimental and sci-fi, but this… This, I was not fully prepared for. By fully, I mean at all.

It’s vaguely sci-fi in its strangeness, and I find myself blinking and bewildered in a lack of comprehension as to what it’s all about.

Welcome to the world of artificial intelligence, which may well be intelligent, but in a way that’s so artificial as to have taken leave of intuition. To unpack that, the liner notes explain that Shanzhai Acid is an album ‘produced through artificial intelligence design and interaction with modular synthesisers. Reminders of the complex, granular music of Autechre, Fennesz’s reimagined environments, the deconstructed dance music of Lorenzo Senni, and the expanse, gestures and sheer reach of Gerard Grisey’s spectral master-work: Les Espace Acoustiques, Shanzhai Acid exists in its own intersection of art, design, music and technology where process and function are transcended to produce an album of extraordinary auditory allusions’.

My initial reaction was, if I’m honest, ‘hell yeah!’ Because innovation in music seems to have slowed so badly over the last decade. No, that’s not my ageing and being stuck in the past. I’m not saying there’s been no good or exciting new music. But innovation stalled: I believe that to be pretty much fact. Because it’s pretty much all been done by now. Guitars have been taken to their limits and beyond, meaning most significant advances since the late 70s have been driven by the use and abuse of technology, and while hip hop and dance music have certainly exploited technology, we’ve not seen anything as radical as the advances made by Throbbing Gristle and the like in the last forty years.

There are points during Shanzhai Acid that both Throbbing Gristle and certain dance tropes are evoked, with crackles and fizzes and static shudders and glitches pop and hum and there is circuitry in interplay, whirring and wowing. It’s hard to tell how much meaning to attach to the titles of these pieces, or even how seriously to take it. But then serious music can have a playful element, and ‘Experts v. Shamans’ sounds like R2D2 in communication with a nightmarish fairground ride. It’s a journey – and a disorientating one at that – that leads to the seven-minute slow-grinding drone and stirring swirls and hums that build layer upon layer on ‘Meanwhile Cephalopods’. Meanwhile, cephalopods what? No, there is no what. It simply is.

Shanzhai Acid is a remarkable abstract work that delves into microtonal and glitch territory, swerves wide into drone and ambience, and scratches at the shores of early industrial and vintage avant-garde. With such wide-ranging elements scrunched together, it’s a unique hybrid and a refreshing, if at times challenging listen. And while you should supposedly never judge a book (or album) by its cover, Shanzhai Acid sounds like the cover looks.

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Shanzhai Acid album cover 6000px RGB