Gyratory System’s leader and creative driving force Dr. Andrew Blick isn’t exactly your typical musician. When he’s not crafting his own unique brand of electronica, he’s a respected constitutional historian and author who is a visiting Senior Research Fellow at King’s College London and once even worked as an adviser in the hallowed corridors of 10 Downing Street. Whether he ever discussed his musical career with the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, himself a one-time rock guitarist, we will probably never know, but what’s pretty certain is that Gyratory System is highly unlikely to feature prominently on the former British leader’s iPod playlist.
A heavily treated blend of wind and brass instruments, synths and processed percussion, New Harmony is certainly not an album for the faint hearted or unadventurous. Following on from well-received 2009 debut The Sound Board Breathes, their follow-up sees Gyratory System moving even further away from conventional melody and structure and deeper into the challenging realms of harshly mechanical beats, sonic distortion and looping atonality.
Joined by his father Robin on wind instruments and James Weaver on synth and bass, producer/trumpeter Blick intended New Harmony to provide aural snapshots of various London landmarks, a concept which is sketchily realised at best. Opening track Lost On The King’s Road is a case in point. With its relentlessly oppressive rhythms and screeching oboe, it comes across as more like a soundtrack for the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust than taking a wrong turn on the way to buy shoes in Peter Jones on a Saturday afternoon. Seven Dials has a similar problem. The constant industrial clattering and brutal stabs of electronic noise are presumably meant to represent the hustle and bustle of the capital, but the track is supposed to depict a laid back village-y area populated with coffee shops and trendy boutiques, not the North Circular.
A lack of variation in pace and mood afflicts New Harmony throughout, with most compositions sounding very similar to each other. Painstakingly constructed with great programming skill it may well be, but everything seems to take place at breakneck speed, giving the listener little opportunity to absorb the complex patterns weaved by Dr Blick and his machines. Very occasionally – on the title track and closing number Industrial Action – some semblance of a melody does peek through the clouds of incessant noise, but for the most part the music here is more of a concerted assault on the senses than an enjoyable experience.
Being experimental is all well and good – from Schoenberg and Stockhausen to Beefheart and Zappa, there’s always been musicians willing and able to push the boundaries of their sound to the limit to achieve something new and challenging. But these artists also had a sense of humanity, narrative flair and emotional impact. Gyratory System sounds like nothing else out there, but they’re cold and clinical and the method to their madness is hard to unravel.
The concern is that Gyratory System’s music is operating on such a lofty cerebral plain it’s all but impenetrable to the vast majority of the record buying public, who will most probably view this album as confusing, inaccessible and ultimately almost unlistenable.