Nobody familiar with Gerald Donald’s work will find any great surprises here, yet in a way that is his point.
XOR Gate is the latest creative manifestation (or should that be program?) of Donald – one half of Detroit electro legends Drexciya and the main figure behind the projects Dopplereffekt, Arpanet, Der Zyklus and more (despite being notoriously secretive about his involvement in any given project).
This release, ‘Conic Sections’, demonstrates a music of pure machinic predictability which has no space for the unexpected. XOR Gate (a computational and linguistic concept) is rather a kind of synthesis of his other projects and identities, moving from the deepest and coldest electronic textures to warmer and more affirmative sequences, always encased in his trademark hi-tech sonic sheen.
‘Conic Sections’ contains eight themes, “in which waveform and synthesis merge entirely with emotions.” Yet, in keeping with the overall concept, some of these seem to have sub-sections and different listeners may perceive less or more individual sections and themes.
All but the most ardent and uncritically technophile listener to his work will be aware of the ambivalence that haunts Donald’s work. It’s never quite made clear if the sometimes almost painful beauty of his work is actually the product of a crazed, post-human evangelist of genetic science, surveillance, robo-trading or the Internet of Things. Just whose side is he really on? Ours? The machines’? Or both? These soundscapes raise profound questions. Are we yearning to be more machinic or are they learning to be more human?
Ironically, his ambivalent position means he elegantly sidesteps the binary logic that increasingly determines our culture. His work could be seen as warning and celebration of our technological future and both modes are audible here.
Consciously, or otherwise, Donald has been warning of and heralding a seductively automated future for more than 20 years, oscillating between utopian and dystopian techno-futures (especially on some Der Zyklus releases). Building on Kraftwerk’s similarly ambivalent and prophetic electro templates, his coldly futuristic textures seem to aspire to the predictability and regularity of a robotically-controlled production line.
From Speak and Spell to Laibach.