Scientists create new machines. So goes the robotically intoned lyric in “New Machines,” the opening track from Simulant’s 1998 EP Simm City. Tresor’s remastering of the track as part of last year’s Scopex 98-00 brought it and the rest of British electro label Scopex' mysterious output to surface-level internet consciousness. But TJ Hertz—better known as Objekt—had been playing Scopex tunes for years.
By Simulant’s definition, Hertz can rightly define himself as a scientist. After completing an engineering degree at Oxford, he worked at German tech company Native Instruments as a software developer, learning how to turn signals into audio and how to change certain qualities in that audio by altering those signals.
In a more abstract, less painfully technical sense, Objekt’s new album positions the artist in the role of scientist—not in a zany, Dr. Brown way, or even in the way that most artists mess around with machines in search of music, but in a way that sees a producer building tracks as though they are machines. These are not static soundscapes or examples of sonic architecture, but moving, functioning things that don’t always behave the same way. Cocoon Crush, on PAN like Objekt’s debut LP, Flatland, is the most experimental, scientific work in the artist’s oeuvre. Yet like any mad scientist (maybe there is a touch of Dr. Brown), Objekt is forever striving to bring his machines to life.
The Scopex link is pertinent with regard to the development in Objekt’s sound, too. When he first emerged in 2011, he was touted as a golden child of dubstep (or at least post-dubstep), but an underreported influence on the artist is that of electro. Aside from sharing singles with Dopplereffekt and remixing The Exaltics, Objekt has previously aligned with a resistance of technoid 4/4 on tracks like “Balloon” and “Ratchet.” Cocoon Crush goes beyond electro’s characteristic restlessness by largely eschewing obvious tempos altogether.
Take “35,” possibly the clubbiest track on the record. A snare karate-kicks throughout the track—constant yet irregular—only to be interrupted without warning by passages of glacial ambience. “Silica” centres on the ambience, but with volatile drums programmed to burst through seemingly of their own accord. Talking about the track in his recent RBMA lecture, Hertz stated an intention to “push and pull” the listener rather than simply carry them forwards. It’s a function that could be extended to the whole album, and it’s performed to dazzling effect.
While Objekt sounds as singular as ever here, his avant-garde, anti-repetitive electro (as well as his love of machines) calls to mind recent Aphex Twin, from Syro to this year’s Collapse EP. Cocoon Crush’s “Secret Snake,” for example, is comparable to Aphex’s “T69 Collapse” in both sound—crunchy, punishing rhythms followed by heavenly choral wash—and efficacy. The opening few minutes of both tracks are fairly unremarkable, like AI-generated impressions of their creators, but both are saved by brilliant, otherworldly second halves, so good they make you think the boring bits were vital after all.
Incidentally, “Collapse,” with its mental, Weirdcore-directed visual, calls to mind the relative dearth of Objekt music videos. It would be nice to see Cocoon Crush interpreted for the screen, though it’s worth stressing that it’s already so vivid as to almost seem visible. While this album is—to use a cliché most often reserved for Harry Potter films—much darker than the last one, it’s also somehow more colourful, its creator discovering even more depth in his HD audio.
Shelving the scientist metaphor for a moment, it’s worth stating just how much the “producer” tag suits Hertz, perhaps more fittingly even than “artist.” Objekt's painstaking approach towards sound design (he’s mentioned spending an entire day perfecting a kick drum) has made his music the kind you download in wav. form even though your laptop doesn’t really have the spare memory. Doing so will reward anyone listening to Cocoon Crush centrepiece “Rest Yr Troubles Over Me” on headphones in a dark room. The track drones like a resting spaceship, tones ranging from ominous church bell to earsplitting “Ventolin” screech, overset with the croaky android vocals which recur throughout the album. It’s terrifying, breathtaking, and one of the finest pieces of music Objekt has ever created.
Equally skin-crawling is “Runaway.” The track creaks, clanks and ratchets towards a chilling middle section in which, if you peer into the oily mist, you can hear the distant sound of children playing. Then you won’t be able to unhear it. The final few minutes unspool into a neo-percussive dance track befitting of Burnt Friedman or Second Woman. Its unnerving experimentalism make it the kind of track not many DJs would go near, but also one I’d pay well over the odds to hear in a club.
The whole artifice threatens to splutter to a halt with penultimate one-minuter “Another Knot,” but it all makes sense once the album’s colossal closer hits. After an intro you might have found on Autechre’s Amber, a neonatal appliance blinks itself awake. Figures echoing earlier points in the album, fuzzes of white noise build until, at the four-minute mark, an eruption of life. There’s something triumphant about the gorgeous, arcing Blade Runner brass line, Cocoon Crush’s melodic crescendo. It’s as though the narrative transformation is complete, as though Objekt’s mad machine has at last become a superorganism.
The album’s filmic progression evokes all kinds of cinematic imagery, but one example in particular springs to mind: Alex Garland’s Annihilation, a psychedelic sci-fi thriller about the transformative behaviour of a foreign ecosystem, with a climax to match that of Cocoon Crush. Everything from the album’s sharp, shimmering opulence (its cover could be a still from Annihilation) to its thematic interactions between machine and being align it with Garland’s apocalyptic work. Objekt— whether artist, producer or mad professor—is on top of his game, and his latest creation is as beautiful as it is powerful.
01. Lost and Found (Lost Mix)
02. Dazzle Anew
04. Nervous Silk
06. Rest Yr Troubles Over Me
09. Secret Snake
10. Another Knot
11. Lost and Found (Found Mix)
Cocoon Crush lands on vinyl and digital formats on November 9.