Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Arpanet - Quantum Transposition

"Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it."
Neils Bohr
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Arpanet released their second album, 'Quantum Transposition', in 2005 on the Rephlex label. For me, getting to the stage of reviewing this album in particular is a bit of a landmark as it was the first new release by Gerald Donald after I began doing DRL. It has therefore taken me just over three years to catch up to where he was exactly the same length of time ago! But I did have roughly 15 years of releases to get through, not to mention miscellaneous articles. I'm quite happy never to catch up with him entirely though, this is music, particularly an album like this, that you shouldn’t rush into assessing. He still has something of a head start anyway with quite a few releases and MySpace projects for me to consider so I would still be doing well to reach him even now. The text information on the sleeve and labels is pretty scant this time, without any name credited with writing or production. I will have to revert to calling him Gerald Donald for this article then.
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Again I went for the vinyl option when getting this album (will I ever learn!) and with two records to get through it is not surprising for someone like myself who has obviously gotten out of the habit of playing vinyl that it has been an album that I only listened to rarely after I first got it. Although one of the more positive things about having an album on vinyl is that it can be more of an occasion when you do put it on, plus you will more than likely be hearing it on a reasonable home sound system at your ease and not just on the portable machine in the kitchen when your making dinner! This is music which does deserve attention anyway as if you don’t know already, it follows on in the ‘Linear Accelerator’ template. I suppose at the time yeah it was still a surprise to see that another of his previously more accessible projects had also now gone down the same path as Dopplereffekt and Der Zyklus. Interestingly the previous Arpanet album, 2002’s ’Wireless Internet’, was the final album he did with his earlier more accessible style. Updating this project as well, after he had updated the Dopplereffekt and Der Zyklus templates, also marked once and for all his commitment and fulltime move into making these brave new sounds. The choice of label was also a bit of a surprise at the time but shouldn‘t have been. Even though the last Arpanet album had been on the French label Record Makers, who he would incidentally return to for the release of the next Arpanet album, he was obviously under no contract or obligation to them and ended up with the UK label founded by Aphex Twin and Grant Wilson-Claridge. Rephlex had previously released the Drexciya 3 12” and also the final Transllusion album and 12”from the Storm Series. This is a relationship which continues to this day with Dopplereffekt’s 2007 ‘Calabi Yau Space’ album and Heinrich Mueller remixes for their label. It would be interesting to know how lucrative it is for a label to have one of his releases on their catalogue these days but kudos wise it is no doubt desirable. The people behind Rephlex are definitely fans of his music as well though so it is probably a bit of an honour for them as well. Although I have a feeling that there wouldn’t be too many established labels chasing his output he appears to have a small core of European labels he continues to work with which I hope will continue to be receptive to him when it comes to finding a home for his latest releases.
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Thematically this album is more of a follow up to ‘Linear Accelerator’, it’s back to cutting edge science after the previous detour of real time identity matching on the Der Zyklus ‘Biometry’ album. But musically it progressives on from both those albums very smoothly indeed.
The first four tracks on the album are all short pieces which are tracks yes but not as you would normally know them. 'Innershell Shielding' begins the album with a slow tempo procession of weird but complimentary sounds. It has an inhuman quality somehow too, of course it is electronic music but it lacks the human touch somehow. It is certainly one of the darker tracks on the album as well which could be a statement in itself. 'Planck Factor' is much different template-wise featuring a swirling mass of high pitched electronics. I would hesitate to call it a track, again, more of a mood than a whole piece. It comes in at 1 min 36. Next comes 'Entangled Photons' which does quicken the pace but is basically a nice sounding loop coming in at just the 1 min 25 sec mark. 'Heisenberg Compensation' follows and while I said that the opener was dark, well this one would give even it a run for its money. It almost reaches the 2 minute mark at 1 min 50 sec. We are actually getting into Black Replica/Zwischenwelt territory here to my ears, which might make more sense later in the article. This first group of tracks definitely belong together, united on the surface level by their short length and sequence, but also by the unsettling mood they collectively inspire. This will turn out to be a spooky enough sounding album anyway, so this opening suite kind of lets us know that in advance. It is also a completely instrumental album unlike the previous Arpanet album and its follow up.
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The first full length track is 5, 'Ionic Crystals'. This goes back and forth between melody and abrasion with a layer of what will have to pass for a beat on top. A few other textures of synth do emerge as the track progressives. Without these extra touches it would have been sort of throw away which is telling you we are dealing with some pretty minimal production, it just about works.
'Entrophic Decay' in contrast has huge reverb soaked beats topped off with more outer space textures slowly emerging from the ether. We can imagine being sucked into a black-hole. This is again unsettling, interesting as well but the mood is definitely one of unease. In my notes for this article I wrote down 'classic' after 'Probability Densities' and yeah it is one of my personal favourites on the album. Whether it is one of Gerald Donald’s best though, probably not. Again the tempo is slow but that beat is still somehow the driving force. There are loads of different touches exhibited here as the track progresses. Towards the end almost everything falls away to be rejoined by the driving beat and it is a wonderful moment. It is kind of delicate and you have to almost will it along, like at the point I just described but it rewards that effort on your part.
'Orbital Wavelengths' is has to be said is also amazing. The beat is again the most important aspect, it has an incredible rhythm, almost so different as to justify the formation of its own new dark electronic genre. The other sounds on it are sparse for sure but somehow it is just enough to hold it together and work. The end is unusual, suddenly slowing right down for a few more bars to an echo. This has to be my other favourite on the album.
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'Information Quanta' also has tempo changes but this time it is one of the main elements used throughout the track. The beats are fully present and correct on this one as well, but they drop out a lot in-between the large variety of sounds which play the melody. It is a bit all over the place but not in that morphing into completely other sounding tracks that was evident on the previous two albums, ‘LA’ and ‘Biometry‘. Interestingly that never happens on this album, which shows that he is approaching it in a different and distinct way to the others. He will in the future go back to this morphing thing but for now he is taking a break from it and the tracks remain consistent in content.
'EPR Effect' is tightly wound and uncurls right out of the gate only to retract again as the tempo slows up. The tempo changes a lot on this one as well. With all this tempo changing going on in these tracks Gerald Donald is obviously trying to make a point. I will speculate on this later but it is one of the things which gives this album it’s own distinct feel. I get a clockwork/time vibe from how it sounds as well. This might tie in with the title which again I’ll get to later. If 'Quantum State Recombination' had some vocals it could almost be from the early Dopplereffekt era. It definitely has elements of that more accessible period but for all of that it is sort of disappointing. It’s kind of stuck somehow and doesn’t really go anywhere interesting for me. It rattles along and sustains interest but is ultimately a bit empty.
'Wave Function' is another one of those original sounding tracks that might in a parallel dimension have its own underground musical genre. Its melody gets into your head but it’s also of another delicate and slight construction. It’s rare that you can say that Gerald Donald’s music reminds you of something you’ve heard before but on this track and one of the earlier ones I got a Polygon Window feel (one of the more ambient PW tracks). It is strongest on this track for sure, just one of the layers of sound here is doing it to me. I’m talking about a project by Richard D James aka Aphex Twin (him again), an album he did called ‘Surfing on Sine Waves’ in 1992 on Warp as part of their ground-breaking ‘Artificial Intelligence’ series. This album would still be in my ‘top ten favourite albums of all time’ if I was a true Nick Hornby type. You kind of wonder if Donald listens to anyone else’s music at all or does he still, like James Stinson said in his interviews, shut down from outside influences when doing music. It would be interesting to know what he listens to himself when not in the studio but unless and until he chooses to share this information with the public we won’t know.
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A bit of a surprise next in that 'Isotopic Balance' uses the same or almost the same melody from the previous track. It does have loads of those tempo changes and stops which does make it a kind of remix really. It is quite different from ‘Wave Function’ alright but the melody is actually the same. But I don’t think we should report him to the trading standards board just yet! He did do something like this once before, interestingly on the previous Arpanet album with two tracks which were only slight variations on the other, ’I-Mode’ and ’NTT Do Co Mo’. Maybe at this point with Arpanet he had a running theme going? Some people would find this a bit of a cheat really but I’ll forgive him, some people only have one track and spend their whole career rewriting it. He might also be making a point about how many directions a track or anything can evolve in and that might tie in partly with the conceptual side of the album which I’ll get to. All the variables.
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'Uncertainty Principle' is the only one which you think is really about to morph in an ‘LA’ way at any moment but it just about holds its form together. It moves along at quite a click with a solid and insistent beat with lots of drop outs to just soundscape textures. The end has no beats and is all soundscape. It’s pleasant, not one of the high points but a reasonable track and quite distinct from the others in certain ways.
'Variables' is a lovely way to end the album, it has a familiarity about it somehow, like an old friend that comes to greet you after the confusing dark ride this album has been. It is still in keeping with the album however. It's a simple enough loop based track, a kind of final reprieve for us at the end. It has loads of ghostly sounds throughout but in a way is quite upbeat. Again I couldn’t think of any particular artist but it does have an element of that kind of lo-fi clockworky electronica that was popular a few years ago, just an element though. Although it is almost 4 minutes long it does kind of remind you of the first four tracks which were setting a tone or mood. It kind of wakes you up again and reassures. This goes to show how subjective this all is anyway, you might have a totally different and equally legitimate view of the album.
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To sum up the musical feel of the album I would have to repeat that it is dark, foreboding and uneasy. Just listen to the end of 'Uncertainty Principle' or the eerie tones of 'EPR Effect' to pick just two random examples, but basically they all share this feeling more or less. Even someone over at Warpmart picked up on this, they describe it as a “set of gothic futurist vignettes”, which would be a pretty close description of Black Replica. I like it, it has a mood and is very listen able in the main, even accessible. I think the music ties in very well with what I think he is trying to communicate to us here. Of course you could say that all of Gerald Donald's could be interpreted as dark but I think this is by far his blackest statement to date and that he is making a point along those lines. As you have already seen the track titles look more like the glossary of a science book than anything but once you start to understand what they are referring to it begins to make sense.
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The album title itself to be honest doesn’t tell us a lot at this stage. So, what is Quantum Transposition anyway? Actually it is a term that I struggled to locate but I have deduced that it is about the fact that a quantum can swap two elements of a set. Very revealing I know! If you didn’t already know, the subject here is quantum theory and if you only remember that this simply assumes that energy and radiation are in the form of packets and that quantum mechanics is the method of analysing the universe using that assumption then that is an achievement. I’m really afraid of losing people at this stage but please stick with it! Gerald Donald has really taken a leap into the unknown from this point onwards and going deeper and sharing my findings with people is what DRL is all about so joining him there is the only route to take. I agree that this is a crazy subject for music but only by normal standards, but when you understand it, it is actually a perfect match. You can still get into it of course without going to this level of analysis, just play the music.
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Although this has been a very successful theory owing to the fact it has yet to be disproved and might not take that much bravery for him to get behind. But with ‘LA’ he was still dealing with emerging hard science, getting close to the fringes of the unknown yes but still working on information which was emerging from the DESY centres and others. Although the ultimate objective of ’LA’ is the elusive Higgs particle, which is itself only theorised about. This subject matter is very much a counter balance to that. Here he is diving into a whole other, purely theoretical area, no matter how long it has managed to be disproved. I wonder if Donald had any doubts himself about this? Thankfully he took that step and like Drexciya before, who when the whole underwater thing was getting predictable, for themselves as well as us, they began the Storm Series. In the same way he too has evolved his themes of science and technology to the frontiers of science and beyond. Black-holes and ESP are a long way from cellular phones and simulated sex! Although as I’ve said in the past he is well capable of working on different themes simultaneously.
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One big clue which would not have made much sense at the time is printed only on the CD itself where there is an equation. He’s crafty alright, what about the poor vinyl people or is this some comment on preferring digital?! The Ψ symbol, used just a year later by Black Replica, is the first character of it. This gives us a whole new context for it, one beyond mere speculation. The symbol in the context of Black Replica certainly still represents the Greek word psi which represents the word or study of psychology as discussed before. But what it also now clearly represents is the Ψ particle. The equation on the CD probably represents the definition of a wave function, with rho being the density matrix. A wave function is the mathematical description of the state of a particle. It is the very basis for any quantum description of a problem. I further investigated the connection between the symbol and physics and found that the particle was discovered in 1974 by a group led by Burton Richter at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre, who named it the Ψ particle. Unbeknownst to then, at about the same time in November 1974, the team of Samuel Ting at the Brookhaven National Laboratory found the same signal. They had dubbed their particle, J. It is now commonly known as J/Ψ and has remained a particle which has been studied intensively ever since. So important was this discovery that they jointly received the 1976 Nobel Prize. Why did the first group call it after a Greek letter you might ask? The odd coincidence was that a computer reconstruction of the decay of a J/Ψ particle looks just like the Greek letter Ψ. Wikipedia said this about it, "The J/ψ is a subatomic particle, a flavour-neutral meson consisting of a charm quark and a charm anti-quark. Mesons formed by a bound state of a charm quark and a charm anti-quark are generally known as "charmonium". The J/ψ is the first excited state of charmonium (i.e, the form of the charmonium with the second-smallest rest mass). The J/ψ has a rest mass of 3096.9 MeV/c 2, and a mean lifetime of 7.2×10-21 s. This lifetime was about a thousand times longer than expected." I think that Gerald Donald was struck, just like the scientists were, that the decay of this particle should take such a distinct shape. That something more was going on here, something unknown. I think this is a great symbol to use then if you want to start to begin dealing with just these unknowns of physics. Like for example why the observation of certain experiments influence the outcome. Erwin Schrondinger, one of the originators of quantum mechanics said, “Subject and object are only one. The barrier between them cannot be said to have broken down as a result of recent experiments in the physical sciences, for this barrier does not exist.“ We are now in an area which ultimately leads us to the belief that we are all connected, that the Universe is all. Where heretofore unexplained things like ESP begin to make sense. This has got to be a subject he needed to explore separately but in tandem to his more straight science related theme. This album therefore is the splitting point of his thoughts on this subject. But they are related really but perhaps he felt as an artist that they needed to be treated as different things for now.
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With the use of certain titles, doubt is beginning to be introduced. On the surface, titles like 'Uncertainty Principle', 'Probability Densities' and 'Variables' speak for themselves. The 'EPR Effect', better known as the EPR Paradox and also known in scientific circles as 'The Pandora's Box of Modern Physics', deals with just this uncertainty as well. This is a famous thought experiment dreamed up by Albert Einstein, Boris Podolonsky and Nathan Rosen in a 1935 paper which was originally trying to prove that quantum theory was not complete. But in fact it truly was a Pandora’s Box because when you brought their two objects going in different directions which can’t possibly affect each other, they can only be affected by local causes, down to the level of the photon for example(’Entangled Photons’), strange things start happening. They appear to have an intelligence, appearing to have a connection to the other, if one is caused to spin so does the other, instantaneously! It's worth stating that entanglement in general is one of the most important elements of quantum mechanics with the shocking outcome if true that we are all somehow entangled/connected. This might account for there being random number generators being used for experiments which if the operator wishes for say more zero's than ones then that is what they will get! This reference therefore is a clear acknowledgement of just this possibility which is later explored by Black Replica and Zeischenwelt. Now you can see why Neils Bohr felt as he did about this subject, "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it." This flies in the face of only local causes effecting their independent movement. Similarly ‘Planck Factor’ is relating to the German physicist Max Plank who came up with the ‘Planck Constant’ or ‘Planck’s Quantum Principle‘, which I presume he must be referring to. Quantum mechanics itself developed from this theory and Heisenberg’s ‘Uncertainty Principle’. Planck’s Principle stated that light can be emitted or absorbed only in discrete quanta whose energy is proportional to their frequency.
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‘Entangled Photons’ deserves its own paragraph as this is one of the specialities of Anton Zeilinger who is credited with providing the cover image. The sleeve credits him with being based at the Institute of Experimental Physics at the University of Vienna. Obviously we are meant to follow this up if we want to go deeper. I have included a link to his biog at the base of this article for you to do just that. Reading from it I also presume that what we are looking at on the cover is another of his fields of research, atom optics. But I may be wrong here on this. This is from his biog, “In 1990, Zeilinger became Professor of Physics at the University of Innsbruck. He took the opportunity to start two lines of research. One concerned entangled photons, the other, because of the limited possibilities with neutrons, atom optics. He developed a number of ways to coherently manipulate atomic beams, many of which, like the coherent energy shift of an atomic De Broglie wave upon diffraction at a time-modulated light wave, have become cornerstones of today’s ultracold atom experiments.” There is too much to write about him here but as far as we are concerned, Donald is well aware of his work, he has probably had some limited contact with him as well to secure the cover image. This subject also brings me to the title, ‘Probability Densities’, which provide a framework in quantum photodetection, which if the album cover is not what I said it was then more than likely this is what is going on.
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Another person, non living alas, which is central to this album is Werner Heisenberg. For it is he who came up with the ‘Uncertainty Principle’ which is the statement that locating a particle in a small region of space makes the velocity of the particle uncertain; and conversely, that measuring the velocity of a particle precisely makes the position uncertain. We are back to the observer and the observed again. His ‘Heisenberg Compensation’ theory also gets a name check. This is said to remove uncertainty from subatomic measurements. I found a reference to this in a Star Trek context by the way. It is said to be how their transporter works, wasn’t this called the hollo deck? This is the second time a Star Trek reference could possibly be drawn from his work. Gerald Donald may be a Trekky. The previous one was strangely in connection to the last Arpanet album as well! See that article for more on this subject.
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‘Ionic Crystals’ are a crystal consisting of ions bound together by their electrostatic attraction and they are indeed used in quantum mechanics experiments. ‘Orbital Wavelengths’ brought me to consider that particles and waves are properties of the same identity. That quantum mechanics treats electrons as waves and that wave properties are more than the particle properties of electrons. At that point I said, “Deep enough”! Although they are related to ‘Wave Function’, which is a mathematical tool used in quantum mechanics to describe any physical system.
‘Innershell Shielding’ was a tough one to find a specific meaning for but I think it’s safe to just take a literal one from it for now. It’s probably part of some piece of experimental equipment. ‘Information Quanta’ is literal enough also, (quanta is plural of quantum). ’Quantum State Recombination’ is again literal enough, it’s the experimental process of putting quanta back together. ’Isotopic Balance’ in the context of quantum mechanics I’m not sure if it does fit but an isotope is a chemical element, of which there are many different types. To have a balance might be important for some experiment or other to do with this subject. Maybe someone else knows and that goes for any more details or even corrections you can make here. ‘Variables’ has got to refer to hidden variables in this context. Hidden variable theories were espoused by a minority of physicists who argued that the statistical nature of quantum mechanics indicated that it is incomplete. Einstein, the most famous proponent of hidden variables, famously insisted that, "I am convinced God does not play dice." This meant that he believed that physical theories must be deterministic to be complete.
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I‘ve left this title till last as although it does have a slight quantum connection it also I believe points to what is coming next. ‘Entropic Decay’ surprisingly brings in Donald’s interest in black-holes to this subject. I found this revealing text in reference to it online, “While it is the case that entropy tends toward collapse, physicists have also shown that ultimate collapse into black holes creates its own form of entropic decay in the evaporation of the black hole. This occurs because “information” is not destroyed so much as randomised when energy is crunched into the black hole. But, since energy retains its curious quantum properties of indeterminacy, at the boundary of the black hole, the question of whether it is “within” or “without” results in a gradual “leakage” until it evaporates. Consequently, energy neither being created nor destroyed means also that the information is neither created nor destroyed.” This subject will be followed up in later releases but unless I’m wrong this is the reference he is making. It may either have an evolutionary meaning as well, which would be of the inevitable social decline and degeneration of all living mammals. But I think the former is correct. I couldn’t find any direct reference to this term in relation to quantum mechanics. This may be the link to the next album, again an Arpanet release, ‘Inertial Frame’, which we will see is very much black-hole centred, pardon the pun. Somewhere in these titles, perhaps this one, there might be a meaning as to why he made a point of having all the changes of tempo. I think it ties in alright, unpredictability, time stretching, that kind of thing.
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It’s interesting and entertaining to see the actual Arpanet tracks come up now when you look for these terms on search engines. I wonder what researchers in this field make of it all! I must say that in trying to track down some of these titles they are either slightly off what they are normally known by or fairly abstractly related to the subject. I don’t know if this is to hinder the research of the layman but it does have that effect. It must be said, although I don’t for an instant believe Donald to be in the least cynical about this, but it would be possible for someone making this type of music to simply go to the glossary of a book on Quantum Mechanics or whatever subject it was supposed to be ‘about’ and simply pick the titles at random from it. Maybe this is why Donald went to so much trouble so that he couldn’t be accused of this. While there is always a danger of cynical deception when dealing with instrumental concept albums we ultimately have to trust the artist. Although I could think of a few examples of visual as well as musical artists that just tack on a load of rubbish to give their latest ‘effort’ a bit more meaning. Why I and usually everybody else notices this for the pastiche it is though is because it is blindingly obvious that the style does not match the substance. Donald on this showing certainly has the substance alright and the style also matches up.
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As I said already the artwork is pretty much just a cover image, a full colour photo courtesy of Anton Zeilinger as the credits state. The subject being at my best guess atom optics or photodetection. I presume the V and H on the instruments represent vertical and horizontal. When I saw this cover fairly small online it looked like an aerial view of a live concert or something. I was surprised when I finally got to see it close up. It is a great cover though, perfectly complimenting the subject matter. On the CD and the record labels for some reason Arpanet is written in either Russian or some weird font. Prefiguring Zerkalo, who knows, I’m tired?! After all that, the sad reality is that I feel I have barely scratched the surface of this album! But that is good, it’s mysteries are safe to continue intriguing us for another day.
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To sum up. Gerald Donald’s interest in the search for the Higgs particle has reached it’s logical conclusion in reaching the new frontier of quantum mechanics. You could read this as a balance between the known and the unknown aspects of science if you wish. You can also take it as the point where he splits his subject into another path of interest which will soon lead him toward Black Replica/Zwischenwelt and interests like ESP and the occult. But black-holes are also still pulling him too.

2 Comments:

Blogger Moscom said...

Hi,

just to give another point of view on the Psi thing. To me, this equation looks like the definition of a wave function, with rho being the density matrix. A wave function is the mathematical description of the state of a particle. It is the very basis for any quantum description of a problem.

11:48 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Thanks for that, just updated post with it.Stephen

10:13 AM  

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