Ensemble Skalectrik, “Trainwrekz”
It’s quite a bold statement to give a record based around the use of turntables a name that closely resembles the slang term for a gaffe normally produced unintentionally by a dance music DJ. That being said, the absurdity of someone like Nick Edwards thinking that a so-called ‘train wreck’ is something to be avoided is laughable. The Bristolian producer has been manufacturing disaster-laced electronic music since his teens, whether as Ekoplekz, under his own name, or most recently as Ensemble Skalectrik. Edwards is responsible for a nearly relentless stream of releases that are saturated with potentially disparate styles; dub, industrial, techno, ambient, krautrock and electroacoustic music all permeate his oeuvre. So do chance, chaos, and a healthy dose of experimentalism: Edwards is one of the true alchemists of sound.
As Ensemble Skalectrik, Edwards takes his unique chance methods and applies them to the turntable. He grabbed a stack of old LPs, primarily from within the realms of sound effects and easy listening, and literally processed the output in real time using a number of devices: equalizers, delay pedals, loopers, and so on. Every entity involved, including Edwards himself, is given credit as an ‘active participant’ in the liner notes. Even ‘chance’ itself gets a mention. There are few artists out there — Philip Jeck and Martin Tétreault immediately spring to mind — abusing vinyl this way, and when one combines the process with the stylistic output evinced on an album such as Trainwrekz, Edwards stands alone.
The depth of texture and near submersion in echo with which Edwards slathers his tracks on this release immediately leads one to believe that the music was assembled, dissected, and reassembled a countless number of times. The reality is that Mr. Skalectrik wrested these sounds from the source wax in only three sessions, with little post-production needed. This is the true meaning of electronic improvisation: sculpting sound in real-time, dextrous hands carefully spinning vinyl, tweaking knobs and adjusting sliders.
So what, exactly, does Trainwrekz sound like? Right out of the gate, “Wrekwahn” wreaks havoc like a slow motion roller coaster diving deep into a cloud of misfiring synapses. Bathed in echo, the sound spirals in every direction, glitching out every so often before coming to rest on a pillow of slowly-fading static. The gauziness gives way to the chiming of a submerged cash register as “Wrektoo” comes into focus and bubbles fill the room. The proceedings become more frantic — imagining Edwards playing this piece live calls to mind a flurry of arms/elbows/fingers/hands flaring rapidly in unnatural ways. There’s more of a musique concrète vibe here than the slithery dub of the preceding track: jarring jump cuts and shifting layers of acousmatic sound adjure an intense focus on behalf of the listener.
“Wrekfree” exists on a plane that lies somewhere between “Wrekwahn” and “Wrektoo,” with space battle laser beams and shooting jets of steam dubbed out such that the sounds stretch in ways that make taffy appear like granite. Flipping the album over, one is immediately faced with the immense vacuum of outer space as the sonic debris of “Wrekfore” floats along like an asteroid belt in a nearly empty sea of drone. The piece gradually builds toward an unexpectedly compact climax before devolving into a field of scattered light. It’s readily apparent that Edwards imbued this side of the record with a sense of contemplation and introspection that carefully balances the frenetic nature of what came before. Continuing down this path, “Wreksank” diminishes the sonic density even further, allowing bits of empty space to slide between the microscopic shards of sound.
Just as surely as “Wrekwahn” is the perfect way to open a release as fascinating as Trainwrekz, so is “Wreksikz” an apt track to close out the proceedings. A lovely feast of bird calls and easy listening loops, the piece is warm and inviting — a complete about-face for Edwards given the relatively abstruse nature of the music that he’s usually known for producing. It’s almost as if he’s going easy on his audience, secretly plotting for his next release to turn the proverbial screws even deeper.