Critics of electronic music often make the argument that it somehow lacks soul; that without the instrumentation that they are comfortable with, electronic music has no connection to the earth, to people, to our spirit. Of course, this argument is nonsense – a nonsense argument made by people who need a reason for their own lack of curiosity, people who think their taste should be the only taste, or people who are just a bit ignorant sometimes.
Regardless, every so often an album comes along that conclusively defeats such philistinism. A piece of electronic music is created that smashes such arguments with the force of a sledgehammer cracking an egg. The debate is over. Electronic music has soul, it has meaning, it connects with those who are open to the possibilities.
Human Condition is an example of such a record. There is something about this album that transcends music, which I appreciate is a big statement to make. I unequivocally stand by it but articulating exactly what I mean by it is another challenge altogether. The first full listen of Human Condition hinted at a portal to a different time. There is a sense of the medieval lurking just below the surface of this album, fleeting and abstract as it may be. It isn’t a medieval album. To the best of my listening ability I can detect no harp or lute. It is a feeling as much as the sound itself and that feeling nagged at me as I listened again and again. Whatever that feeling or connection actually is, it represents the power this piece of work holds. It’s a record full of soul; of both the earth and the universe, allied to the past using the music of the future. The critics and traditionalists be damned!
Deeper listens revealed other influences. Cogito Ergo Sum, Space of Appearance and Object/Subject are beautiful tracks in different ways but all carry a hint of Kankyō Ongaku, Japanese ambient music which itself contains nods to ancient Japanese music. These layers of history and influence sit gently on top of and amongst each other on Human Condition, never crowding the music or being too obvious, but subtly adding depth to the lush soundscapes unfolding and transforming from track to track.
Eternal As Centre is a haunting, tender song carried along gently by reverb laden strings and the occasional ripple of a cymbal. It has echoes of The Durutti Column and like so many of Vini Reilly’s compositions, it has a fragility that teeters on the edge of collapse throughout the piece. Simple, contemplative, gorgeous – it is one of the best tracks on the album, as well as one of the sparsest. Eudaimonia is also pretty minimalist, sounding like an ancient ritual coming from some misty hillside above, singing bowls or chiming bells merging into a jumpy, delicate beat that ends the piece. A Question I Have Become Myself is bigger, more powerfully built than a lot of the tracks on Human Condition. It isn’t abrasive or overwhelming but it carries itself with a slightly darker sense of authority as its open synth sounds are taken over by a more claustrophobic cacophony of beats, glitchy electronics and the occasional menacing crackle as if something is lurking just below the surface or within the human psyche, nagging and poking – questioning…
You Are is another beautiful piece of music which again has sense of history contained within it. It brings the album to a thoughtful end, with dialogue about self-image and the human mind overtly pointing towards the record’s key theme. Human Condition is an album about exactly that, the human condition, whatever that actually is. Fragile X creates space to explore such a big theme and that space is perhaps where the sense of history appears as well. It is where influences and nods towards other traditions find fissures and gaps to make their presence felt, sometimes only for a second or two, sometimes for a more sustained period. It all adds up to a piece of work that carries with it a certain weight. The album notes contain the line ‘The human condition is imperfection. And that’s how it’s supposed to be.’ Undoubtedly that rings true and the same could be said in some respects when discussing Human Condition. I don’t get the impression the composer was striving for perfection when he made the album, though that isn’t to say it isn’t a brilliant record, because it absolutely is. But the lasting sense Human Condition leaves the listener with is a sense of honesty, of big themes and of a deep connection to the past, a collective past, the human past. To convey things of that nature through electronic music takes an awful lot of skill but just as importantly, it takes soul.