Multistability is the branch of Gestalt psychology in which things are perceived in more than one state. It is usually used to describe images like the Necker Cube, or the Rubin Vase, those strange optical illusions which, when you try to focus on them, seem to pulse between two different and wholly contradictory forms, but can also be used with reference to auditory trickery. Trickery like this new album by Mark Fell, one half of Sheffield’s Raster-Noton duo SND. Given that Fell’s last solo album, 2004’s Ten Types Of Elsewhere, focused on “a link between objects and alterity through spatial and temporal deformations, twistings, rotatings, reflections and stretchings”, I think it is fair to say he has form in this field. Or that field. Or both.
Multistability is the sort of album which is released in late November to make those publications which have already compiled their best of the year lists (not guilty, thankfully) look absolutely ridiculous. Monolake did likewise last year with Silence, and Multistability shares with that album both a surgical sonic precision and the sense that its creator has been listening to a lot of very current music; as such, it fits well with the recent Raster-Noton 12″ series, including the razor sharp Kangding Ray release. It begins with a staccato techno clarion call which almost immediately starts varying tempo and mixing with glitch and a rhythm which sounds like a metal ball being dropped onto a metal plate from height. The tension between those warm synthetic sounds and cold, harsh textures continues to fascinate throughout in a variety of settings: Track 5A reduces these elements to morse code like strings, while the miniature 5B sees techno organ stabs swapping, swapping, swapping with harsh, spitting noise. The fastidiousness of the arrangement is highlighted best on 9, electronic melody blended together with a rhythmic composition to match a Chris Corsano drum solo, the beat sliced til it is wafer thin, and assembled with the finesse of a Michelin starred chef.
As with Ten Types Of Elsewhere, Multistability both lacks – and indeed benefits from the lack of – SND’s more linear, rhythmic obsessions, being more fractured and abstract, with a more minimalist approach which encourages us to dwell on the sounds as much as the patterns, and in particular on the interaction between different elements. For a minimalist electronica album, the amount of non-linear information that it requires you to process can be confusing, at times completely overwhelming; it swings violently from left to right, speeds up and down without warning. Listening to this outside on headphones, I’ve actually found it difficult to walk in a straight line; the bushes and gutters of North London are not safe when I’m listening to this. Different rhythms and sounds compete for the same headspace, channels fading in and out in disorientating fashion – you lock onto something, it vanishes, and something else arrives in its place. Multistability.