Features

Planet Mu’s Newest Star Makes Club Music Imagined by Artificial Intelligence

Meet Antwood, the Canadian producer examining if robots dream of electric beats on his debut album.

by Daryl Keating
19 April 2016, 9:03am

Antwood is the alias of Tristan Douglas, a producer, microbiologist, and all-around deep thinker hailing from Nanaimo, British Columbia. Some might remember his EP Work Focus from last year, an under-the-radar gem put out by net label B.YRSLF Division. It's a slice of footwork that's been pummeled and fractured into something that's neither here nor there, which is probably why it grabbed the attention of Planet Mu boss Mike Paradinas.

Around that time, Douglas was still recording under the name Margaret Antwood, an admittedly lazy spoonerism on internationally-celebrated poet and novelist Margaret Atwood. "I thought it'd be funny to take some figure that's barely known in the public consciousness and do like a really crappy pun of her name," he says. "She's such a Canadian darling, so it just seemed funny to use her in that kind of context."

Less than a year later, and minus the "Margaret," Antwood is set to release his first full-length album on a proper label. The opportunity came about after Paradinas reached out to the producer through SoundCloud, looking for him to expand on the splintered beats of Work Focus. The result is Virtuous.scr, an even deeper dive into the strange area where experimental meets club music.

This seldom traversed ground plays right into the overarching concept, the notion of whether or not an artificial intelligence can have its own set of morals. "A lot of the day-to-day work of doing microbiology is very mechanism-based and repetitive, so often when I should be working on microbiology, I find myself just making music instead," says Douglas. "I was thinking if an artificial intelligence could somehow be facilitated to have a code of ethics, and whether or not it would be blunt force programmed into it or it could have a kind of artificial neural network, where it could develop its own set of ethics."

Courtesy of artist

While this might sound overly conceptual for a genre in which the primary function is to get bodies moving, Virtuous.scr is far more neural in nature than physical. There's a certain amount of mental effort required by the listener in order to fully grasp its intricacies. After you do however, the once opaque intent of the album comes into focus.

This conflict can be heard within individual tracks too, as the record's robotic protagonist tries to expand on certain from its decidedly narrow experience.

"With 'Sneakers,' I was thinking that if an AI were to take a purely conceptual idea of what is popular in music right now—which for that one was the syncopated rhythms of footwork, and some of the breaking glass sounds that you can hear in club music—it would try to recreate them, but wouldn't have the proper context for what went where," explains Douglas. "So it's just kind of this mishmash of clichés and tropes coming in and out, that just sounds kind of weird and off."

Throughout the album you can hear the struggle of the AI as it bucks and jolts in an attempt to create, and even understand dance music. "There's kind of a shift in the record where the aesthetic changes and it becomes less machine-like and brutal, and it becomes more melodic," says Douglas. "That's a representation of the AI getting some sort of emotional intelligence. At the same time, it's completely constructed and automated, so it can provoke some kind of emotion, but it's really far removed from music that someone would actually play."

Virtuous.scr is a weird and intriguing sonic journey, where everything creaks, dissolves, and morphs in on itself. There's an element of renowned American musician and sound designer Richard Devine in here, only less abrasive and more accessible. Despite having a strong concept too, Antwood never uses it as a crutch to hide anything lackluster. The tracks are more than strong enough to stand on their own, backstory or no. If this is the BC producer's idea of an introductory album, then it's almost impossible to predict where he's headed next. Rest assured though, it'll be anything but run-of-the-mill.

Virtuous.scr is out April 29th via Planet Mu, preorder the album here.

Antwood is on Facebook // Twitter // SoundCloud

Daryl Keating is on Twitter.