The story of Earth is one of flux and altered states, from the natural to those manipulated by humanity. Electronic music producer Matthew Wilcock digs into these natural and manipulated metamorphoses on his fractured, glitched-out and bass-heavy Floating Metal Key EP. Wilcock, alongside friend and director Dan Kokotajlo, also explores this friction in a short film preview for the EP, which they're premiering today.
In the short, which has a science fiction vibe, organic matter overtakes urban landscapes, while urban architecture shape-shifts in technologically-advanced fashion. Wilcock, who works as a sound designer for film, video games, and other media at Zelig Sound, was determined to give the EP a rich visual parallel. So, he turned to Kokotajlo and an international team of creatives to pull it off.
“Working with film, I’ve always loved the moments when you don’t know what is more real,” said Wilcock. “Something that has been re-recorded and manipulated and feels and sounds real, or something that is verité, captured at the time and is real or true to the source.”
Wilcock sees a gray area between the real and manipulated, and how they relate to music, art, and other media. And so the film mirrors the Floating Metal Key in that its seven short sections are conceptually tethered to each of the EP's seven tracks. In the film's first section, for instance, viewers can see an old typewriter sitting in a courtyard, while the manmade world around it is being consumed by nature. This grew out of sounds that Wilcock created from an old typewriter in his studio.
“I was imagining the keys detaching and slowly floating upwards and what this sounded like,” he said. “The snare and some of the designed elements are from this source. This is the natural world manipulated (we also hear pure typewriter sounds ).”
As an audio-visual experience, it echoes some of the writings of J.G. Ballard. In his post-apocalyptic The Drowned World, the organic world floods manmade civilization. In the surreal pagan fever dream of Unlimited Dream Company, the main character alters the organic world in absolutely mental ways. Like Ballard, Wilcock understands how the world relies on tech to manipulate everything around us—even reality.
“I think art and possibly the whole world relies on technological manipulation, and I don’t simply mean electronics,” said Wilcock, who added that this is explored in both obvious and subtle ways. “Being obsessed with technology and its influence on social mobility as an enabler of wealth and opportunity, does it also have a negative effect on our lives, and what the exactly is it that effect?”
Wilcock said that his question is visualized in the scene where everyone is being immobilized, then pulled up into the sky by “some sort of power to the digital organism” that moves through forest undergrowth, mimicking and blending with trees.
To capture sounds, Wilcock uses various hardware, including Sound Devices 722 and Nagra IV audio recorders, as well as a Sennheiser 416 and a pair of 8040 microphones. On the software end, he uses Kyma, a piece of hardware and software that is a visual programming language of sorts. With it, users can synthesize sounds with computer algorithms.
“With Kyma, you can literally do anything you can imagine and then control it in a natural way,” Wilcock said. “Splitting recorded sounds into the spectral parts with the ability to re-synthesize them into different things, and morph them with other sounds.”
Despite the power of processing sounds with a mouse or numbers, Wilcock still prefers the “gestural or human control” of a Wacom tablet or knobs on a piece of hardware. The results, he said, are much more interesting because they're imperfect.
“I guess these are processed sounds made natural, since you’re using your own meter and fingers, as you would playing an instrument,” he added. “The humanization makes for something interesting, unexpected and organic.” Which, after all, is the point of Floating Metal Key and the short film.
Matthew Wilcock's Floating Metal Key is now available through Penicillin Records and can be purchased on iTunes. Images courtesy of the artist.