Renowned for pushing the boundaries of electronic music via various sonic experiments, IDM pioneer Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, now debuts arguably his most ambitious enterprise yet with Music For Robots, a five-track EP produced in conjunction with a team of Japanese roboticists and their mechanised ‘power trio’ creation, Z-Machines.
Arriving twelve months after German scientists constructed a heavy metal covers band entirely out of robots, and just a few weeks after Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology unveiled a cyborg homage to electro-pop vixen Robyn, the 39-year-old isn’t the first to tackle such a concept. But consisting of entirely new compositions, Music For Robots is perhaps the first time that an artist’s main goal was to pose the question, “can robots actually create music which is emotionally engaging?”
Consisting of a 78-fingered guitarist named March, a 22-armed drummer named Ashura and a keyboardist who triggers notes with lasers named Cosmo, the “ultimate 12-year-old boy’s fantasy” undeniably showcases a musicianship that goes beyond the realms of what a human being can physically play.
“Dissolver” is a fast-and-furious whirlwind of avant-garde noise which combines breakneck speed rhythms with the kind of blistering proggy guitar riffs that would no doubt shatter fingers should anyone with a pulse attempt them. Elsewhere, “Sad Robot Goes Funny” starts out echoing the instrumental mood music Mike Oldfield perfected on Tubular Bells before launching into an equally propulsive affair which sounds like the Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack on speed.
This tour-de-force sound is mightily impressive but not particularly listenable, and it’s only on the EP’s bookends, the gothic minimalism of opener “Remote Amber” and the woozy synth-led lullaby of closer “You Endless,” that Squarepusher’s latest pet project begin to present anything approaching emotionally engaging.
An interesting and often jaw-dropping exercise, Music For Robots certainly justifies Squarepusher’s visionary reputation but it’s a piece of music more to be admired than to be enjoyed.