Album Reviews

Harmonic 313 – When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence

(Warp) UK release date: 2 February 2009

While Tom Middleton has become something of a big name DJ in recent years, his long-term collaborator Mark Pritchard seems comparatively overlooked. While Tom is headlining at the Big Chill or releasing another compilation of obscure cover versions, the man he recorded with as Global Communication, Link and Reload (to name but a few) quietly gets on with producing fine electronica.

This venture under his Harmonic 313 moniker is of an expectedly high quality, Pritchard has been in the music making game for about 20 years now after all, and echoes from Warp’s back catalogue (which he and Middleton contributed a fair deal to) can often be heard. There is an essence of the label’s early ’90s Artificial Intelligence compilations but while there have been hundreds of imitators trying to ape that so-called ‘IDM’ sound ever since, the tracks on offer here somehow manage to retain their own identity.

Kicking off with the bassbin-busting Dirtbox then moving through the sci-fi moodiness of Cyclotron and Kraftwerk meets Detroit techno outing, No Way Out, this is electronic music with personality that isn’t afraid to stand on its own two feet. OK, there are influences that can be gleaned – classic electro, dubstep and Aphex-style ambience among them – but this isn’t an album of fashion-conscious imitation, which serves to make it all the stronger. The beautifully chilled bass-workout, K�ln, may come across like a Boards Of Canada/classic Aphex Twin hybrid but it’s no less stunning for it.

Mixing filthy bass with sweet harmonies, the careful balance of light and dark is maintained throughout. It’s not all electronica though, Battlestar is a powerful slice of hip hop while Falling Away dips a toe into meditative, machine-made soul. As ever with Pritchard’s productions, the music is emotionally engaging throughout, with Quadrant 3 offering a horizontal tug at the heartstrings that is reminiscent of his phenomenal work as half of Global Communication.

Eccentric and idiosyncratic while still being enjoyably accessible, this is an album that reinstils the ideas that Warp’s early releases did: that electronic music can be thought-provoking and stir emotion as well as moving people to make shapes. Arguably superior to his old mate Tom’s recent Amba project release, maybe it’s about time Mark Pritchard got some plaudits and gained big name status himself?

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Harmonic 313 – When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence