LLYR, the musical guising of Gareth Williams, who frankly will blow your mind with the ecologically concerned, sourced and refashioned IDM he’s presenting at the end of July with his album, Biome, has today released an actually properly stunning video for “The Hawthorne Effect”, the second track he’s revealed from what we’re tipping massively to be electronica album of the year. Period.
The video, filmed and filtered and tweaked less into an otherworldliness and more into a hyper-this-worldliness, sees surging, hallucinatory AI depicting the destruction of our green lungs, the rainforests, and climate change by a humanity with tunnel vision and left unchecked, impossibly thirsty for the resources therein.
Biome explores the intersection between music, art and science for Max Cooper’s Mesh imprint and has been wholly created from a library of sounds that Gareth collected in the rainforests of Borneo.
With one foot in the rave and the other committed to widescreen dynamics, dancefloor bangers sit side-by-side with textural ambient, sweeping harmonies and freeform electronica. We’ve heard it. Our jaw dropped. We’re not sure we’re ready to get up just yet.
“The Hawthorne Effect” is named for the theory in which people are thought to modify their behaviour if conscious of observation. It nominally captures a swarm of insects engaging in a mating ritual, presenting as a base collective hum from which Llyr explodes out the sound in shards and fractals, plunging us into the communal hum and individual insect textures; macro- and micro- level, of course all the while layering this into an icy techno with a clicky, addled swing from that propelling kickdrum, static fizz, wired and warped and weird and absolutely sweeping you away. Compelling; inundating.
Explaining the genesis of the track, Gareth says: “The rain had just stopped after a three-day downpour and we were sitting in the outdoor kitchen area in a longhouse on an organic farm on the outskirts of the rainforest.
“It was early evening and we were eating under the light of a simple lamp. A large insect flew up behind me, attracted to the light, and then another, and then another. Before we knew it we were in the middle of a swarm of insects.
“Before dashing for cover I quickly turned on my recorder, which was sitting on its tripod, and recorded the inside of the swarm. I had just witnessed an event which wouldn’t have happened in that time and place if I hadn’t been there; sometimes our mere presence is enough to change things.
“This is reminiscent of the Hawthorne Effect from psychology, where studying a subject results in modifying the individual’s behaviour. (The study of workers at the Hawthorne Works, which gave the phenomenon its name, was even about the effect of lighting changes on activity.)
“In the context of Biome, the occurrence I experienced is a microcosm of the influence humankind has on the natural world. It is impossible for us to not have an impact, but it is up to us to moderate it and try to ensure a peaceful co-existence with nature.
“This recording of the high-frequency beating of thousands of wings and the wing flaps of individuals who flew right up to (and bashed into) the microphones became the source for this song. A drumkit was created by layering individual insect sounds. Lush, harmonic strings were created by repeating many tiny grains of these recordings. A pulsatile alarm was made by sending the insect sounds through a Metasonix distortion unit feeding back into itself.
“As such we hear the insects acting as individuals and also swarming as one. This the unsettling warning sound of an event that is wholly the result of an interaction between nature and humankind.” Does this gurt your head? Feel in the presence of actual, bona fide genius? And it’s as good, if not better, than you could conceive. Intelligent, nuanced, an absolute lip-curler to act upon your musculoskeletal system.
Video creator Xander Steenbrugge, machine learning researcher and digital artist, adds: “This video highlights the delicate interplay between nature’s serene environment and the potential destruction that human civilization can bring about when left unchecked.
“To create a compelling narrative around this interplay, I used an advanced AI technique called GANs (Generative Adversarial Networks). The first step in this process is to create a training set of images the AI can learn from. For this, I curated a collection of thousands of images from the pristine rainforests of Borneo as well as various examples of human interference in natural environments – logging, forest fires, oil rigs. The AI model is then tasked to learn the visual style and composition of those training images.
“Triggered by these conflicting visual elements, the AI model begins to hallucinate interesting (and often dark) visual impressions that vaguely resemble the themes present in the training data. This hallucinated imagery is then finally composited into a seamless visual storyline that perfectly matches the narrative of the track.”
Look out for our review towards the end of next month. A sneak preview: “Best electronic album of the year? Pretty much bet your house on it. Best electronic album of many a year? Nailed on. Best electronic album of any year? You know what? I can see no way that Biome won’t take its place alongside Amber, Music Has The Right to Children, Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1, Autobahn et al. That bloody good. Essential. Bloody essential.”
Llyr’s Biome will be released digitally and on vinyl by Mesh on July 29th, the vinyl being eco-recycled so that no two copies will be the same; you can pre-order yours now over at the label’s Bandcamp page.