Pye Corner Audio Pye Corner AudioSleep Games
Six months ago, Pye Corner Audio was an esoteric name only within the reach of those well versed in the mysteries of the hauntological underground. But then along came the Type label, with its vocation for digging up mysteries, and it pressed a double record compiling the first two releases of this practically anonymous project, distributed first in furtive audio files, and later re-recorded on ridiculously limited-edition cassettes, both titled “The Black Mill Tapes” (volumes one and two). The third part of the trilogy was put out right at the same time, on CD-r and digitally, a collection of electronic sketches that gave a poetic idea of something spectral and vaporous, that time of ancestral synthesizers - although all of this would have remained hidden had it not been for their rescue on plastic by Type. When we wrote the review of that double record, “Black Mill Tapes Volumes 1 & 2”, we didn’t even know who was behind that arcane music, just that the creator hid behind the name The Head Technician and was deeply influenced by the era of BBC laboratory magnetic recordings, 60s and 70s terror and science fiction B-movie soundtracks. Furthermore, that this fascination with analogue, echo chambers and the inexplicable (both in sound and in spirit) was an inseparable part of his aesthetic. We knew that he was an animal who knew his way round the recording studio, with an enviable agility.
Today, six months later, we have more information: we know, for example, that behind Pye Corner Audio is a sound engineer with over a decade of work behind him, who answers to the name of Martin Jenkins. Also, that his career has developed on various fronts, both helping pop bands as an expert technician, and doing his bit for techno projects - on his curriculum vitae he is associated with cutting-edge names such as Luke Haines, Trevor Jackson, The The, Gossip and Martina Topley-Bird. Pye Corner Audio, however, has little to do with that official life, which surely helps him pay the bills very well: its aims are radically opposed, and as has already been indicated on more than one occasion, they coincide with those of Ghost Box, a label that isn’t much inclined towards selling out. A fascination with a former age of innocence, blind faith in technology and progress - in the prosperity of Western life during the second half of the 20th century - translated musically into an unceasing succession of adventures in the dreamy, experimental side of a still-doubtful electronica. So his signing with Ghost Box was inevitable: if Jenkins has a place in the world, it is next to Jon Brooks, Julian House and Jim Jupp.
Nevertheless, be careful with “Sleep Games”, because it holds pleasant surprises. In what is technically the first Pye Corner Audio album conceived of as such – the first to be released simultaneously on record and CD in view of its distribution in shops, at least – Martin Jenkins accompanies his miniatures of meditative ambient with a scroll of mystery floating in electrically-charged air, like those of “Chlorine” and “Yesterday’s Entertainment” (which we could, in summary, identify with his more Boards of Canada side) with forays into techno such as once formed a part of projects like Optimus or Stratus. Various passages of the 16 that make up the album trot along dreamy fields, on the back of a beat that tends to delve into the darkest reaches of the rainbow of feelings that Pye Corner Audio’s sound covers. This nuance coming into play takes place from the first cut, “Sleep Games”, which seems like the darkened reflection of the utopia of Chromatics: slow drum, flanked by film-like synths, but with a somber background. If we were to compare it with a film, without a doubt it would be the theme song of an improbable remake of “Drive” done by Dario Argento.
“The Black Mill Video Tape” insists on this cyclical cadence, that motorik rhythm of a 70s Italian soundtrack - in this way, Pye Corner Audio aligns himself in parallel to Umberto, the great contemporary master of this subgenre. And starting with “Print Through”, which is less than a minute of the sound of freezing wind, we finally recognize the end of the music of beginnings, music that projects retro-futuristic melancholy, echoes of primitive cosmic music, homage to Delia Derbyshire and glimmers of new age in gems like “Deep End” and “Into The Maze”, which has that layer of grey dust that is missing lately from the highly-polished, radiant music of Emeralds. Perhaps there are too many fronts open on a single album – the living-room cosmic sound like The Advisory Circle, with its mockery of the British gentleman, plus the nature-documentary tranquility of Boards of Canada, with a trace of the proto-industrial added, sort of a reformulation of the Throbbing Gristle of “Hot On The Heels Of Love” ( “The Mirror Ball Cracked”, which is more funeral than motorik overall), but Pye Corner Audio knows how to juggle this all astutely, at the same time giving unity to an album that seeks horizons to expand and depart from, capable of breaking its own working routine. Without being a classic, “Sleep Games” is a turning point for a retro-futuristic scene that didn’t seem to know where to go, lately. This is the way.