Harmonic 313 – ‘When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence’

June 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, April 2, 2009.

Harmonic 313
When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence
(Warp/Inertia)

UK production export Mark Pritchard has been unleashing slabs of glitch-heavy noise, tech-orchestration and electro-funk for almost two decades now. Working under an assortment of guises – think Troubleman, Reload and Link, not to mention collaborations with Tom Middleton as Jedi Knights and Global Communications, and his more recent work with Dave Brinkworth as Harmonic 33 – the now Sydney-based beat-smith has built a reputation as one of progressive electronic music’s senior protagonists.

His latest solo venture, Harmonic 313, sees Pritchard wear his inspiration on his sleeve. If the floor shaking frequencies and synth-nuanced future hip-hop bump of When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence doesn’t scream Detroit loud enough, the “313” in Pritchard’s updated nom-de-plume – lifted from Motor City’s area code – sure spells it out. Nodding to the hardline downbeat of the late great J Dilla as much as the retro futurism of Detroit techno kings Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kenny Larkin, Pritchard throws himself in the deep end with this release. Suffice to say, he has few troubles staying afloat.

From its opening skirmish – the brutal sub-bass growl, clanging reverbs and atomic break-beat of ‘Dirtbox’ – When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence shows itself to have far more tricks up its sleeve than mere Detroit envy. The slabby bass-line construction and raw frequencies of cuts like ‘Cyclotron’, ‘C64 SID’ and the positively thunderous ‘Call to Arms’ point to a UK sensibility more closely aligned with dubstep and early grime, while lithe electronic beat squelch and buzzing, layered atmospherics of ‘No Way Out’, ‘Köln’, ‘Galag-a’ and ‘Quadrant 3’ echo of same kind of hip-hop/IDM pulse of Warp label mate Flying Lotus.

But while Pritchard’s palette proves far broader than his nominated area code (the stunning ‘Falling Away’ with Steve Spacek shouldn’t overlooked here), the bones of this collection are certainly arranged in a Detroit-ian manner. Perhaps its strongest gesture, the understated head nod of ‘Word Problems’, reeks of Dilla so much it’s hard to believe the track came from someone else’s studio monitors.

It’s both strength and a limitation. While Pritchard has drafted a compelling, rhythmically punishing piece of future hip-hop here, When Machines… lacks the slippery fluidity that made Flying Lotus’ Los Angeles seem so impulsive and unpredictable. He may not stay in the same position for too long, but Pritchard tends to shift from hard-edged shape to hard-edged shape.

Dan Rule

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