CD REVIEW: Elliot Galvin — The Influencing Machine

Elliot Galvin — The Influencing Machine
(Edition Records EDN 1103. CD review by AJ Dehany)

Elliot Galvin’s third album The Influencing Machine is a compelling synthesis of headspinning suggestions and contrariwise notions that the pianist has established as a signature style. Listening to the dexterousness and independence of his hands, his unification of highly immediate rhythmic and melodic lines along with advanced classical harmonic wigginess, the only explanation for how he does all this is that he must have two brains.

The album has a crunchy texture with driving piano and creaky prepared piano, plonking keyboard instruments, whirring tape recorders and blooping hacked toys. His previous album Punch featured an unforgettable home-made double-microtonal-melodica. He recently demonstrated his free-playing chops on an amazing duo album with Mark Sanders, and I’ve seen him reworking contemporary pop songs with chiming sonic immanence playing with Corrie Dick, who joins this tight, wickedly talented trio on drums and percussion alongside Tom McCredie on bass and guitar.

The Influencing Machine is named for Mike Jay’s book about James Tilly Matthews, a noted but undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who was confined in Bedlam in 1797. He believed he and others, including figures high up in international politics, were being manipulated by an Air Loom: “a machine that operated invisibly, from a distance and with irresistible force”.

Galvin’s hacked toys and weird wide-panned tape sounds work on us like suggestions, like electronic voice phenomena (EVP) or semi-audible ghostly voices found on tapes, whether because of spirits, or auditory pareidolia (interpreting random sounds as voices in one's own language) and apophenia (perceiving patterns in random information): whatever these phenomenon are, they have been called another kind of ‘ghost in the machine’.

Throughout history people have believed that God was influencing or speaking to them. This was the first time that anyone is recorded as believing they were being acted on by a machine. It is therefore significant as a watershed moment in disenchantment, as Jay writes: “For everyone who has since had messages beamed at them through their fillings, or their TV sets, or via high-tech surveillance, MI5, Masonic lodges or UFOs, James Tilly Matthews is Patient Zero.”

Galvin seeks to draw attention to the parallels between James Tilly Matthews’s life and times and the modern world: the overwhelming complexity of interlocking systems that structure our thoughts and actions. To him, the Influencing Machine exists, just as it did for Tilly, as inescapable webs of influence and anxiety. It’s a protest album, but an oblique one, hinting toward something else without quite knowing what. Back in 1968 Arthur Taylor asked Randy Weston if there was any protest in his music. The pianist Weston said he wanted to aim his music “toward seeking a better way of life, because we’re protesting but we don’t quite know what’s a better way of life. I think this is one of the problems. It’s not protest anymore, it’s almost like another step.”

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

LINKS: The Influencing Machine is released on Edition Records (HERE)
Two LJN writers picked Punch in their 2017 year-end recommendations
The source : Mike Jay's Novel
Writer Ken Hollings explores the phenomenon of electronic voice phenomena (EVP) in this BBC Radio 4 documentary 

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