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SIGNAL GENERATOR – Output EP (Occasional Records)

Posted: December 24th, 2005, by Alex McChesney

It must be tough to be an electronicist nowadays, it being a genre that’s entered a kind of adolescence. Older forms have a long and fruitful past to draw upon. A guitar-rock band can easily flourish and become massively successful while sounding much like another guitar-rock band that was around thirty years ago, based entirely on an ear for a catchy tune and nice white smiles. Form a folk act, and while there are many qualities that your audience will expect from you, exciting new forms of sonic creation are going to be fairly low down on their list of priorities. Novelty, while always entertaining, holds far less value to a long-established musical genre than it does one for which the listener’s perception is that of acres of new ideas and possibilities stretching into the horizon, waiting to be harvested.

Partly, this is an illusion caused by massive growth spurts over the life of the genre. Hardware which would have required the taking out of a mortgage in order to possess a decade ago is now available, in one form or another, to any back-bedroom tinkerer of a modest income. Undoubtedly a good thing, optimistically leading to the democratization of music and making the major labels sweat, this rush of technological advance has had the effect of stamping a “best-before” date on almost every new work, to the point where the canny listener can place previously unheard records to within a couple of years.

Now that’s reaching an age where, while still a young pup, it actually has some kind of commonly recognized history, electronica is faced with a problem. How to address its past while still expected to be constantly eyeing the future?

Richard D. James gave us one answer with his Analord series of EPs, restricting himself to ancient equipment but approaching it without a hint of nostalgia to produce something that sounds every bit as fresh as you would expect if he allowed himself a less restrictive palette, but which is sonically rooted in his own personal tradition.

For Huddersfield’s Signal Generator, on the other hand, the past isn’t there to be dissassembled and pillaged for raw material, but is a place whose customs and architecture are familiar and comforting. If played this record without any prompting as to its origin, I would have placed it in 1995 sooner than 2005. By putting out an EP of electronic music which has so little regard for recent fashion, Signal Generator seem to suggest that the electronic genre might be one which could do with slowing down, taking a breath, and spending some time coming to terms with its own history before it goes tearing off again. If, indeed, there really is anywhere left that’s worth tearing off to. The four tracks on this record range from the playfully melodic (“Memory Helmet”) to the pleasingly ambient (“Legno Lungo”) or skittishly sinister (“Radix Lecti”) and are all perfectly effective and constructed with a sense of confidence which is admirable. Somehow, they fail to engage as they might, but there’s a sense of promise which, while frustrating at present, suggests that the individual behind Signal Generator might yet unearth something rare and exciting from his personal archaelogical dig.

Occasional Records

Alex McChesney

Alex was brought up by a family of stupid looking monkeys after being lost in the deep jungles of Paisley. Teaching him all their secret conga skills (as well as how to throw barrels at plumbers), Alex was able to leave for the bright lights of Glasgow where adventure struck him and he needed all his conga skills to save the world and earn the hand of a lovely Texan princess. He now keeps a low profile alphabeticising his record collection and making sock monkeys in the likenesses of his long lost family.


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