John Matthias and Jay Auborn
Ghost Notes

(Cognitive Shift)


The ghost in question on Ghost Notes lurks somewhere in the unseen space between the physical and the digital. For most of us, that interface retains an impenetrable, uncharted sense of enigma; for John Matthias and Jay Auborn, it represents a challenge.

Matthias, who in one life works on pioneering research on Neuronal Music Technology and in another collaborates with Radiohead and Matthew Herbert, has joined with musical engineer and sonic adventurer Auborn, and together they have created a robot drummer. Solenoid magnets use a computer’s audio signals to fire hammers onto a real drum kit, and as such, they have conjured a Galvanist manifestation of that ghostly space. If it sounds rudimentary, then listen to these tracks closely. The first time the duo even trialled the process, the computer reproduced complex 1950s jazz drum solos with striking, borderline terrifying credibility.

They use the eight tracks on Ghost Notes to explore the limits of their Shelley-like creation, finding that as their musical improvisations in the studio became more complex, the computer did all that it could to keep pace, with minor glitches in the programming allowing for fascinating artistic diversions.

‘Dive Into This’ introduces us, Matthias’ violin notes tempting us into the duo’s lair, where, after two and a half patient minutes, the ‘he’s alive!’ moment arrives. Crisp, syncopated beats drive a restless energy into the track, while acoustic sounds are tortured to sound cybernetic and synths are made to sound like handclaps, the interface be damned. On ‘Auto Psalm Engine’, shuffling drum patterns and percussive synths produce a sashaying, strutting dance, whereas ‘Silver Solenoids’ is infected by the night-time, rumbling with echoes of mutant rave, our robot friend seemingly now ready to open his own club night.

‘Christmas at The Twisted Wheel’, which began as a theoretical John Lewis Christmas advert set in the legendary Northern Soul club in Manchester, begins mournfully, but, true to the marketing playbook, it bursts into a joyful celebration, Matthias’ violin singing a song to melt the heart, with drums tight enough to cut some sharp shapes on the dancefloor.