Metamono “Tape EP”

3 stars (out of 5)

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There’s a difficult choice here.  Metamono are a group/collective partly consisting of ex-Shamen and Bomb the Bass personnel and they have a manifesto.  Before we go any further, it’s probably a good idea to have a look at it; it won’t take long.  You can see it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U750IlDW9I.  The difficult choice is whether to talk about the music or the manifesto; ok, manifesto it is.

The basic premise is that digital technology is making music flaccid and predictable and I’ve got a lot of sympathy with that; before sampling, you would have asked a musician to play something which fitted in with the piece you were creating but now you just sample something, timestretch it and slot it in.  So far, so good.  The Metamono response to this situation is to impose strict limitations on the way their music is created and use these restrictions to ensure that creativity becomes more important than technology; again, I have a bit less sympathy with that position but then we get to the details of the creative restrictions.The first restriction is a bit of a strange one; Metamono will not use microphones.  It’s strange because microphones aren’t digital technology and they predate the analogue synthesisers which Metamono feature by about a century.  Even the industry standard Shure SM58 was launched in1966, about 5 years before analogue synthesisers appeared on the commercial market.  Maybe I’m being a bit pedantic, but why is not using microphones a big deal, particularly when there aren’t any vocals?  And how did they record the voiceover for the manifesto?

On to the rest of the manifesto; no digital sound sources or sampling, no mechanical sound generation or digital processing, no overdubs or remixes and digital processing and editing will only be used when no alternative is available.  Composing and mixing will be done simultaneously and only previously-used or home-made instruments will be used.  There’s also a reference to not being afraid of mono.  Ok, that’s enough of the manifesto for now.  The first full-scale Metamono release, the “Tape EP”, is out on October 31 as a 10-inch single and download, so what’s it like?

There are 4 tracks; XeF4, H2NS, Metahaze and Emptygamezone and they all sound a bit like you would expect them to sound if you had read the manifesto.  There are strong suggestions of Kraftwerk and Sheffield in the ‘80s.  It’s very atmospheric; H2NS sounds like wandering through a disused warehouse in the dark with water leaking through the roof, while Metahaze has the feel of a car journey through a busy city at night with a dub reggae bass in the background.  The EP as a whole sounds something like a little-known 1990 Rough Trade EP “Journey Through the New York Underground” by Metro with a few more unvarnished edges and corners; it’s certainly worth a listen if you want something a bit out of the ordinary.

Which brings us back to the manifesto again.  I’m always a bit uncomfortable with any artistic work which is made in accordance with a strict set of rules, particularly when the manifesto isn’t particularly consistent.  In this case, the use of some digital technology and the refusal to use perfectly acceptable analogue technology seems a bit perverse.  Popular music has evolved by adapting new technologies such as multi-track recording, amplification and sampling and finding creative uses for them.  It’s inevitable that these technologies will have a honeymoon period where they are over-used (Autotune for example) before becoming just another tool in the musician or producer’s box.  At a time when digital technology is now producing results which are comparable to analogue, it seems a strange to restrict your music making to purely analogue techniques.