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Surgeon - Luminosity Device Music Album Reviews

Surgeon - Luminosity Device Music Album Reviews

Inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Birmingham techno producer puts a fresh spin on his pummeling club tracks; the album is equally suited for dancefloor abandon and spiritual searching.

Beginning in the mid 1990s, Anthony Child—as the DJ and electronic musician Surgeon—pioneered a strand of techno as brutalist as the concrete architecture of his native Birmingham, turning out hammering, remorseless rhythms that drew their power from the grease and grit of industrial music. Much of modern techno—from the Berghain sound to the noise-laced experiments of Prurient and Broken English Club—owes something to Surgeon’s influence. But Child himself remains idiosyncratic, averse to pigeonholes. A few years ago, for instance, you might have found him strafing arenas full of Lady Gaga superfans with coruscating modular electronics, joined by Gaga’s DJ Lady Starlight.

In that clip from the Lady Gaga concert, Child is sporting a Coil T-shirt; just like John Balance and Peter Christopherson’s industrial project, there’s the sense that Child isn’t interested in noise as mere provocation, but as a path to enlightenment. Over the last few years, we’ve seen him venture outside the confines of Surgeon’s turf to explore such themes by embracing new methodologies. The two-volume Electronic Recordings From Maui Jungle, released under his own name on Editions Mego, offered meditative excursions in modular synthesis, melding sweltering rainforest field recordings with the bubbling tones of a Buchla Music Easel. Meanwhile, a new duo project, the Transcendence Orchestra, employed monastic drones as a route to “exploring the effect of tone and improvisation on consciousness.” Luminosity Device feels like Child’s attempt to reconcile these extracurricular experiments in the esoteric with the corpus of Surgeon itself. The album is inspired in part by the Bardo Thodol—better known in the West as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, an ancient guide to the afterlife beloved of psychedelic explorers—and boasts track titles alluding to that ancient text’s ruminations on death and rebirth.

Despite this backstory, and despite a cover photograph where a blurry, triple-exposed Child wears the opaque gaze of a cult leader, once you get past the liquid new age of the opening “Seven Peaceful Deities,” the contents within are unmistakably Surgeon. “The Primary Clear Light” and “Earth-Sinking-Into-Water” offer up rugged, pummeling techno characterized by its pared-back simplicity and surging, runaway-train energy. Still, there is the sense that Luminosity Device has nudged Child’s sound onto a slightly different track. “The Vibratory Waves of External Unity” and “Master of All Visible Shapes” balance machine-music rigidity with an unmistakably lysergic quality—rhythms shot through with squirming undulations, burbling synths flaring and dissolving around the edges.

Luminosity Device is notable not only for its slamming dancefloor qualities: In its sequencing, it also suggests a sense of passage—from tranquil repose to dark momentum to frenzied reckoning, and finally an arrival at some kind of enlightenment. There’s a stunning moment some five minutes into “The Etheric Body” where the furious kicks suddenly fall away to reveal a lattice of pin-prick synths, and a voice describes the process of shrugging off one’s physical form and becoming spirit. That sets the scene for the climactic “The Source,” which uses mantra-like repetitions and mangled acid sounds to drill down through layers of consciousness—a sort of DIY trepanation conducted using synthesizer and drum machine.

It’s possible to listen to Luminosity Device and hear just the grit and none of the grace. But that this album feels as suited to dancefloor abandon as it does for periods of meditation or contemplation is telling; for Child, perhaps, the two aren’t so different—both offer a way of ceding control, of losing yourself in something greater.

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