“The simulacrum now hides, not the truth, but the fact that there is none, that is to say, the continuation of Nothingness.”
Dark Pool is the new studio album from Black Rain, the project’s first in 18 years.
Produced in New York City by Stuart Argabright, Black Rain’s founder and figurehead, Dark Pool is a work of hard-edged sonic fiction rooted in cyberpunk’s quintessential neo-noir cityscape/dataspace but projecting into a farther future of biotechnological advancement and alienation.
Partly inspired by the writings of Philip K. Dick protégé K.W. Jeter (particularly 1996’s Edge Of Human, which picked up where Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner left off), and Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2009 novel The Windup Girl, a vision of 23rd century Thailand plagued by genetic and economic terrorism, Dark Pool’s humid dystopia is also acutely Ballardian in its vision of manmade and natural worlds encroaching upon each other: a vivid psychogeography of half-submerged high-rises and hidden jungle laboratories.
Stuart Argabright first landed in New York in 1978. By day, he worked as a landscape gardener for the upscale likes of Rock Hudson and Bob Dylan, while at night involving himself in all manner of subcultural activity – the reverberations of which are still being felt today. He co-founded seminal no wave minimalists Ike Yard (whose early 1980s work has been cited as an influence by the likes of Kode9, Young Echo and Silent Servant), collaborated with the late Rammellzee in futurist hip-hop outfit Death Comet Crew (recently reactivated for an LP on Powell’s Diagonal label) and as Dominatrix scored a bona fide club hit with the downtown electro classic ‘The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight’ (1984).
Science fiction has captivated Argabright’s imagination since an early age – perhaps unsurprising given his father worked at the Pentagon developing the earliest incarnation of the internet. A hyperconnector by nature, Argabright entered into a correspondence with William Gibson in 1984, the year that the author’s epochal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer was published, and the two later met in person at Biosphere 2, an experimental centre in the Arizona desert studying space colonization. When, in 1993, pre-production began on Robert Longo’s movie adaptation of Gibson’s short story, Johnny Mnemonic, Argabright was invited to create an original soundtrack for the movie. Argabright’s then current band, Black Rain, had hitherto dealt in industrial-hued death metal, but for the Johnny Mnemonic sessions they metamorphosed completely, core members Argabright and Shinichi Shimokawa producing an exhilarating, richly atmospheric score of doom-laden, synthesized drones and hypnotic tribal drumming that perfectly captured the essence of Gibson’s hardboiled data-crime caper.
In the meantime, what had begun as an arthouse film had spiralled into a bloated $26 million studio production with Keanu Reeves installed as its lead and only a tangential relationship to the source material; predictably, Black Rain’s bleakly beautiful soundtrack was jettisoned in favour of a more commercial, all-Sony pick’n’mix (God Lives Underwater, anyone?). The mothballed tracks, along with contemporaneous pieces specially recorded for the first audiobook edition of Neuromancer, did eventually find their way into the public sphere – on Black Rain’s 1995 debut album 1.0 – but it wasn’t until 2011, when Blackest Ever Black reissued them on the compilation Now I’m Just A Number: Soundtracks 1994-95, that they received due recognition. An expanded 2xLP and CD edition of this compilation will be released in 2015.
Since reviving the Black Rain project in the wake of Now I’m Just A Number’s release, Argabright has toured extensively under the name and last year released an EP of live recordings, Protoplasm, on BEB. Three of the EP’s four tracks appear here on Dark Pool in radically revised and expanded form: the stuttering ribofunk of ‘Endourban’ is now anchored by ominous string pads faintly redolent of Argabright’s labelmates Raime, while ‘Data River’ revisits the accelerated beat-stream of Black Rain’s 1996 album Nanarchy, and the low-slung ‘Protoplasm’ has evolved into a sprawling, syncopated techno epic – the sound of red dawn rising on an illegal replicant rave.
A further seven new productions feature. ‘Burst’, its title perhaps a nod to Sogo Ishii’s 1982 biker gang saga Burst City, harks back to the scrap-metal-banging brutalism of Black Rain mk.1; ‘Xibalba Road Metamorph’, the album’s angry, anguished centrepiece, externalises the sadness and self-loathing of Jeter’s oppressed post-human workforce. ‘Night In New Chiang Saen’ reimagines dub as the viral product of one of AgriGen’s morally suspect scientific initiatives in The Windup Girl, before ‘Who Will Save The Tiger?’ calls upon spidery, Metalheadz-esque breakbeats and wailing guitar drones to summon a 23rd century Ark. Vocals (on ‘Profusion’ and ‘Profusion II’) from Zoe Zanias (Keluar), and a brief spoken intervention from Sean Young (who of course played Rachel in Blade Runner) are simply the most audible manifestations of a dejected feminine presence that haunts the entire album.
For all its textual references, Dark Pool is a visceral and straight-talking affair: its bodyhammer rhythms and brooding sound design require no explanation for their impact to be felt. And, after all, to quote one of Gibson’s most celebrated lines: the street finds its own use for things.