Friday, July 6, 2012

Richard H. Kirk: Virtual State

Kirk, a founder and main sound manipulator for the industrial/electro/techno/whatever British group, Cabaret Voltaire, has had a phenomenally active solo career, though, rather modestly, when asked how he could produce so many albums, he merely replied that the technology of computers, processors, synthsizers, and so on made it easier.

If working with electronics isn't "playing" music (though the rock musicians could easily look down on the techno guys, and the jazz people could look down on the rock dudes, and the classical performers could look down on the jazzbos, ad infinitum), there is certainly a skill involved in laying down compelling tracks of samples, keyboard riffs, drum machine rhythms, and et cetera to make a notable piece of electronic music. 

Does proficiency trump ideas? Is a studio musician as "artistically important" as someone who comes up with a great melody and/or lyric?  Is a gimmick as good as a well-structured and performed song?  Or can we apply one sensible definition of art--it's what the viewer/listener believes it is?

In any case, Kirk made his first solo record, Disposable Half-Truths for Throbbing Gristle's Industrial Records label back in 1980, and followed that with several more solo records and one collaboration with vocalist Peter Hope during the ensuing decade.

By the time Cabaret Voltaire went on what appeared to be a permanent hiatus in 1994, however, Kirk had found an enormous wellspring of inspiration in the burgeoning techno/electronica/whatever scene(s) that burst forth in the later 1980s and early 1990s, spearheaded by his excellent work under the Sandoz (read: lysergic acid scientist) moniker.  With collaborator DJ Parrot, he worked on the Sweet Exorcist (read: classic Curtis Mayfield album of the early Seventies) project that issued the first full-length recording on the hometown Sheffield label, Warp, which became legendary in the electronic world.  This album also had American distribution via the eminent Chicago label Wax Trax! and the New York label TVT.

It is hard to imagine anything that Kirk has ever done, with all of his recording under innumerable aliases, that is better than 1994's "Virtual State."  From the ambient opener "November X Ray Mexico" which takes a military pilot's transmissions and leads it into an unintentional jeremiad to "fight the radio," to the sleek African percussion-driven funk of "Come," to the cooled out head trip of "The Feeling (Of Warmth and Beauty)," to the soothing and dreamlike closer, "Lagoon West," this is a record that, for those attuned to electronic music, is well-sequenced, clearly produced, and highly evocative in its use of found sound, basic synthesized instrumentation, bleeps and blurps, and the odd disembodied voice.  Plus, the artwork by the remarkable Designers Republic, championed by Cabaret Voltaire and others, is perfectly complementary to the sounds adduced by the record.

For a man with enough humility, candor and self-confidence to declare that he is not a musician but can come up with something so truly musical and enticing, Virtual State may be the best introduction to a vast catalogue that runs the gamut of electronica/techno/whatever.  Many more RHK recordings will be featured on this site and this album marks a high point among many in a 30+ year career.  It is also more commonly available than virtually (!) any other Kirk album.

Richard H. Kirk:  Virtual State (Warp, 1994)

1.  November X Ray Mexico
2.  Frequency Band
3.  Come
4.  Freezone
5.  Clandestine Transmission
6.  The Feeling (Of Warmth and Beauty)
7.  Velodrome
8.  Soul Catcher
9.  World War Three
10.  Lagoon West

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