The Connection Machine – Painless

The Connection Machine are a Dutch male-female duo (a relatively rare combination in techno?) and though this album was released in 2004, the tracks are all some 10 years older than that. They would have been released on Carl Craig’s Planet-E label, but for some reason or another that never happened. We should be glad they have seen the light of day, though I only stumbled across them thanks to Fact Magazine’s 30 great techno albums you’ve never heard list. That is the kind of bait on which I’ll click all day long.

No pain involved, this faded, grainy collection of 90s techno is like looking through an album of old faded photos. Like all the tracks here, opener Blue Genes Copyshop is composed of just a few elements, in this case: a kick drum, percussion, a simple melody and a vocal sample which just repeats the word ‘acknowledge’. Something about this sample – I don’t know whether it’s the source material which I imagine is some lost 70s or 80s sci-fi – is innately soothing, yet also melancholy and hinting at something more numinous. (I’m not familiar with the recent wave of Hauntology artists, though I guess they draw their ghostly source material from the same deep wells of shared nostalgia).

Harmonic Resonance picks up the pace, with faster tempo and a more frenetic ravey synth. It puts me very much in mind of the album Richard D James recorded as Polygon Window: speedy and edgy but simultaenously warm and organic. Again the vocal sample sounds like it comes from some retro sci-fi movie, which gives the track that juxtaposition of nostalgic familiarity and otherworldliness. An android takes over vocal duties on Connect Me, accompanied by a back-and-forth breakbeat. Fourth track, Chemistry Cosmos really sounds like an Aphex track, circa Caustic Window (which is absolutely no bad thing) with its ultra lo-fi percussion, offbeat rhythm and pulling off the paradoxical feat of being both manic and soothing.

The whole texture of this record is warm, crackly and softly muffled. This might sound like a negative for techno – a style which relies on clean lines and razor sharp edges to cut through the static – but it’s really not here. Even though this is definitely rave music, complete with acid lines, siren synth blasts, drum rolls, etc, the patina of age makes it feel like a lost artifact, music from another time, or buried on earth by beings from an alien, sci-fi future.  

Like some of the best electronic music – or any type of music – these tracks feel like more than the sum of their parts. Through the deployment of carefully chosen samples and adept use of vintage analogue gear, the Connection Machine imbue their tracks with meaning and profundity. As if pondering how this trick is possible, a voice on The Primer’s Mite – presumably belonging to an advanced AI – suggests, ‘I’m sure you have some kind of deep and insight human plan that I can’t understand’. That unbridgeable gap between the artificial and the human – how is emotion possible in a world composed solely of atoms and molecules? You just need a Connection Machine.

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