Keith Berry: Viable Systems 1
VSM Theory

Presumably the first in an intended series, Viable Systems 1 is the inaugural release on a new imprint by London-based composer Keith Berry (b. 1973), whose releases you'd locate (if there were such a thing anymore) in your record store's ambient bin. No info appears on the release's colourful packaging aside from the release title, artist name, and thirteen track titles, many of which suggest associations with biology, physics, mathematics, and philosophy (“Entelechy” automatically triggers connections to Aristotle, for example). While that means I can't share any details about the gear Berry used to produce the material, I can tell you that Viable Systems 1 is one of the most beautiful sounding albums I've heard in a long time. Its gleaming, gently sighing synthesizer tones are as free of abrasion and as smooth and polished as one could possibly imagine, and anyone in search of a soothing collection of instrumental synthesizer music would be wise to investigate.

Viable Systems 1 is described as a generative work, which means that Berry devised systems that once put in place generated the thirteen settings. Some relinquishing of control on the creator's part is thus involved, even if parameters are established during the formative stage. Though the tracks range from three to eight minutes, each piece could, in theory, run for hours, days, weeks, months, or even years, depending on the capabilities of the equipment involved. Consequently, a setting presented as a relatively brief sound sculpture on the recording could effectively function as accompaniment to a gallery installation that's active for months on end.

It's also important to emphasize that Berry's settings, while they might suggest some degree of commonality with loop-based constructions, don't repeat in the way a piece built from loops does. If I'm not mistaken, being generative means that the music produced retains a consistent character without necessarily ever repeating itself. Regardless, the material featured on Viable Systems 1 is never less than musical, and it's easy to find oneself so entranced by the softly warbling tones of placid reveries such as “Autopoiesis,” “Abiotic Factor,” and “Equilibrial” that one wishes their resplendent tones would go on forever. Long-time ambient listeners will likely find it impossible to hear Berry's set and not be reminded of classic Eno and Roedelius releases, but one also imagines that were he presented with Viable Systems 1 Eno himself might deem it the best ambient album he never produced.

January 2018