Available on: NNA Tapes LP
Techno veteran Surgeon putting out a non-dancefloor release on a tape label, you might argue, is a symptom of our times. But to frame this release as a product of the recent bleed between the dancefloor and the cassette underground would be to do Anthony Child a disservice. The fact is, Childhas never been simply a techno artist. Speaking to LWE he has recounted how his earliest dabblings with tapes date back the mid-80s; some of that material saw the light of day as the Boys, School Showers & Swimming Pools 7”, released on Downwards in 2000. The record’s two short tracks are an fascinating window on Child’s pre-techno influences: the crude, surreal collage-structuring of 50s musique concrete, with a disturbing undertow reminiscent of industrial music.
That 7” was, until now, the only solo release Child had put out under his given name (he also uses it for a range of collaborations). The Space Between People and Things gathers together a series of experiments of a similar kind – deploying field recordings and synthetic material in a largely beatless context – but from a later period, spanning from Child’s mid-90s heyday to the present day. It’s a more controlled affair than those early experiments and, obviously, much more technically accomplished. But as far as Child is concerned, we can safely guess, both are part of a continuous whole. “The surface style can easily be distracting to what is going on a few levels deeper,” the producer asserted in that same LWE interview. “For me techno has always been a vessel or carrier wave to transmit other ideas.”
This LP, then, is best viewed as a collection of those very ideas – ones that will be perfectly familiar to Surgeon fans – untethered from a rhythmic framework and allowed to float in free space. Or to put it another way, these two side-length tracks are what happens when you take Child’s brand of dense, clinically precise techno and subtract repetition entirely, leaving only glacial changes in tone and intensity, eery holding patterns and unsettling mechanical drones. There are certainly parallels to be drawn with the abyssal atmospheres of the last Surgeon LP, 2011’s Breaking The Frame – a record which was bookended with beatless sketches. But where that album aspired to the cosmic, The Space Between People And Things operates on a far smaller scale.
As the title suggests, this is interstitial music: ghostly, barely-there. In its best moments, Child cleverly blends field recordings and synthetic material to evoke uncanny, weirdly neutral spaces that sound as if emptied of activity. Partway through side A we are placed in a bland cityscape, populated by hi-pitched sounds that are part cricket-chirrup, part piercing synth tone. Later, periodic washes of white noise – or is that the breaking of waves on a shoreline? – teeter on the threshold between calming and overwhelming. It’s the tautness of these moments, the sense that they hover, unstably, between states, that gives them their affective charge.
Elsewhere, however, that charge is lacking. The first half of side B in particular – a single protracted metallic drone – feels like a studio experiment that never quite achieved lift-off. But the following section, a collection of clean synth tones that perpetually swarm and disperse, sliding teasingly in and out of focus, redeems it. The Space Between People and Things was never going to have the canonical significance of a new Surgeon album – nor is that what it seems to be striving for. But as a footnote in Child’s discography it’s both fascinating and, often, rewarding.