If it weren’t for the instant appeal of his music, Gerald Donald’s sprawling discography and penchant for pseudonyms might obscure the fact that he’s been making unrivaled techno and electro for over 30 years. . His work with the late James Stinson as the conceptual electro superduo Drexcyia blew minds and subwoofers alike. As Arpanet, he and Stinson (and then he alone) inverted Kraftwerk’s perhaps tongue-in-cheek euro-techno utopianism for perhaps cynical industrial music for virtual workplaces. His Der Zyklus productions bumped and bounced with the best of Detroit funk. The ripples created by a series of albums under his own name in the early 2000s deserve wider circles of listeners, as does his first progressive workouts as LAM This brutal world may not deserve full analysis Collected works box set, but I sure hope we get one.
And then there’s Dopplereffekt, her duet (like Rudolf Klorzeiger, another pseudonym) with To-Nhan, aka Michaela To-Nhan Bertel. Over the decades, the pair undertook electronic investigations into sex, fascism, capitalism and other human entanglements, producing increasingly cold production. Neurotelepathy thaws things out at some sort of body temperature: he won’t sweat, but his cinematic swoon and crisp precision break the Dopplereffekt mould. What is pouring out is very much like human emotion.
A concept album about a machine’s ability to decipher a subject’s thoughts, Neurotelepathy activates mechanisms that are standard in much of Donald’s work. Then things get real. “Neural Impulse Actuator – Mirror Neuron” is based on an electro pep, impeccably realized, with a bass line which establishes unexpected grids. What appear to be recognizable human voices enter, tangled with synthesized zigzags. They destabilize almost the whole company, as if to say, it’s chaotic outside. As if they read my thoughts.
“Visual Cortex” and “Optogenetics” perpetuate the Carpenter-esque arpeggiated menace that Donald excels at, but replace the paranoia with expanses of panoramic wonder at what data can do. Opener “Epigenetic Modulation,” an unexpected collaboration with Kranky ambient explorer Christina Vantzou, sets the philosophical framework. A presenter calls the audio transmission “transgenerational epigenetic heritage” the same way Curtis McClain called Marshall Jefferson’s “Move Your Body” “all-night house music,” SOPHIE’s way of summoning the intangible. What you To doand what is done for you, becomes who people can be. It might not take a thought reader to assume that, for someone with a legacy like Donald’s, this possibility is a blessing and a curse. And indeed, after this clear statement of intent, Neurotelepathy only gets more spongy. A closer ‘EEG’ is flesh made audible, like Cronenberg in its messiness and revelation, and light years away from Donald’s usual scientific method – dark years, perhaps.