Mark Pritchard’s been around the block a few times. He’s had a finger in most of the electronic pies over the last two decades: from the lush ambience of Global Communication and the rich IDM of Reload to the Latin-tinged breakbeat of Troubleman and the electro of Jedi Knights. Harmonic 313 is a mere number away from his work with Dave Brinkworth as Harmonic 33, but the new album is radically different to the radiophonic jingles and queasy-listening melodies of that project.
There are some similarities. The love affair with obsolete technology and arcade melodies remains undimmed. When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence is a real jumble of ideas and styles that mashes up almost half a century of electronic music history. At first it resembles a mad, almost random, compilation tape. It’s eclecticism taken to extremes. And yet there is a thread of sorts that runs through it, although it’s difficult to pin down what exactly that is.
Some tracks do resemble pastiches. “Flaash” is acid house with a wry nod to Joey Beltram whilst “Cyclotron” is old school electro. Both are unashamedly retro, but are still excellent examples of their respective genres. Elsewhere, things are a mix of old and new. Opener “Dirtbox” is a bass heavy dubstep monster that has a late eighties acid squelch and time-stretched ragga vocal samples straight out of early 90s jungle. “Galag-A” has a tottering dubstep rhythm with bubbleblaster backbeats and a Boards of Canada melody line. “Call to Arms” is home to a floorquaking sub-bass that would probably melt most club sound systems.
The sounds of old arcade games, the world of the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 home computers and early electronic toys like Speak ‘n’ Spell are all tossed cheerfully into the cauldron. There’s minimal dub, modern r&b and rap, and buzzy seventies synths. It probably reads like a mess, but it all somehow works. Apart from the three short skits, every track has a lot to recommend it. “Köln” is quite lovely, but definitely sounds familiar, and “Quadrant 3” seems to evolve from primitive electro to lush ambience during the course of its six minutes.
There’s a nice touch to the sleevenotes, too. They contain the transcript of a lecture on AI, purportedly given at Michigan State College of Digital Technology in 1985 and entitled “Creative Artificial Intelligence in a Post-Singularity Society”. It’s convincing – but then I noticed the name of the professor behind it. Hannrod Berk – Judith Hann, Michael Rodd and James Burke? Type ’em into Wikipedia if you don’t remember them. It encapsulates both the playfulness and the loving attention to detail that Pritchard’s bestowed on this clever and highly rewarding album.
1 Dirtbox (4:29)
2 Cyclotron (4:42)
3 No Way Out (4:22)
4 Music Substitute System (0:43)
5 Köln (3:46)
6 Galag-A (3:36)
7 Word Problems (5:24)
8 Battlestar (3:04)
9 Cyclotron C64 SID (1:08)
10 Call To Arms (4:35)
11 Flaash (6:38)
12 Don’t Panic (4:43)
13 Falling Away (4:16)
14 When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence (0:31)
15 Quadrant 3 (6:05)