Phil Tomsett: Taken Apart
Fluid Audio

Buzzing with electricity, Phil Tomsett's follow-up to 2015's Broken Memory Machine is an audio distillation of our sensorially overloaded times. On the eleven-track Taken Apart, the English sound artist, who also issues material under the alias The Inventors of Aircraft, casts a cold, hard gaze upon the 21st-century cityscape and sees a world drowning in noise and saturated with technology. While Taken Apart isn't an outright exercise in despair, the release doesn't stint on recognizing the traps we've laid for ourselves and how impossible it seems at this stage to extricate ourselves from them.

What led to such a portrait? As Tomsett traveled between the countryside and the city, he couldn't help but notice how much the bucolic calm of the former contrasted with the crazed intensity of the latter. Everywhere he went, it seemed, a constant barrage of disembodied voices confronted him, the precise origins of said voices obscured by their ubiquity and omnipresence. Layers of phone conversations, PA announcements, video ads, audio messages from checkout machines—all such detritus leading to an impression of an industrial environment marked by chaos.

To render such an impression into audio form became Tomsett's goal, and to that end he worked with electronics, synthesizers, strings, and field recordings (audio and video) to generate sound collages that would do so. Yet though static-encrusted networks of voice transmissions do collide throughout the recording, Taken Apart ultimately impresses as more artful than chaotic, with musical passages featuring piano and strings often acting as a stabilizing counterpoint to the collages.

It's not uncommon for a one-minute miniature of electronically distorted conversations to be followed by a meticulously constructed soundscape such as “Wonderland” that reverberates with ambient washes and choir-like exhalations. “Conversations with Strangers” exudes a rather disturbing aura in having a muffled cry appear as part of its sound design, while it wouldn't be inaccurate to call the nightmarish collage “Hold On! Keep Safe!” dark ambient. In contrast to those unsettling pieces, plaintive string washes and muffled horns give the title track the character of an elegy, one perhaps intended to memorialize a simpler way of life now seemingly out of reach. Tomsett's material ultimately stands alone, though you might be forgiven for hearing a little bit of William Basinski in “Encased” when a water-logged piano penetrates the fog and smothering electrical storm.

Par for the Fluid Audio course, the physical version of the release is impressive, this one coming with a vintage foldout map, eleven photo-prints, two three-inch CDs, and even a bus ticket individually numbered for each edition. (Also not unusual for Fluid Audio releases, the physical version is currently sold out, though obviously it can be acquired in a digital form.)

February 2018