Fate with Love: Actress – ’88’ Review

Communication is really hard. Not just getting across your message across, but the tone, emotion, posture, context, meaning, etc also wants to be nestled in between each letter and space within and between those words. Even with these acts of good faith, words often if not always fail us. Being in agreement with such a statement with the main verb I do is “to write”, it’s an acute pain to realize your reality is that of an errand boy in a fool’s dream. But these failed words are in me to the point where I need to get them out unfortunately, usually in a hurried frenzy. Today’s hurried frenzy comes out due to Darren Cunningham, or Actress’, most recent release, 88. Released as one whole piece, Actress’ new work is a prelude to his upcoming sonic love letter, Karma and Desire. 

The worst failings of communication come about when expressing the seemingly inexpressible, love. How can one show the intangible product of external joy from another now internalized within you? Or your own internal love cultivated into something larger? How can you get it out in a way that doesn’t feel inauthentic, like you’re not giving the emotion the medium it deserves? Many feel like art is the only way as we’d otherwise burst from emotional pent-upedness. For many, going abstract feels closer to reality than taking the literal route of word. Words are a rough and often harsh language, I’d consider (the good) writers and poets the true magicians of our time; able to translate the ethereal into something legible. In our daily lives, we feel our own limited capacity towards translation by including an “lol”, “LMAO”, or an emoji. In certain tough text conversations, the inclusion of a period or not tells the true emotion of the operator on the other line moreso than whatever paragraph came before it. In the world of the Message App, we may feel like this sort of thing a somewhat new phenomena but its goes back (probably farther) to the early 1800’s. Morse code telegraph operators used various number successions to communicate a sort of short hand to the operator on the other line. “73” stood for ‘best regards’, ’21’ meant ‘stop for meal’ (the ‘brb’ of the 19th century), and ’88’ for ‘Love and Kisses’. These numerical protocols emoji consolidated such a powerful feeling into muffled beeps and tones. This abstraction probably felt just as strong as we felt sending our first hearts to our gradeschool sweethearts across T9 keyboards back in the day. 

Text messaging - Wikipedia
Forgotten/forgiven love languages

This counterintuitive idea of how the abstract can get us closer to our feelings rather than spelling it out is the prevailing theme of 88. The record seems to be split up in three or four parts, giving homage to Darren’s past output that those who took the time to crack the code needed to access the file for 88 are surely well versed in. The first large suite feels like a fugue state coda for his last release, 2017’s AZD. Sounds straight from that album’s prime jewel, “Dancing in the Smoke”, are on full display as well as some snippets from his Rinse FM show back in 2017 (still yearning for that first tune, geez). Here, these sounds feel like an old friend who came home for Christmas to see his family, but found time to grab a drink for a bit before they gotta rush home. The second chunk of the record reverbs the mood of a dance floor much moreso than what came before with the mere input of a 4/4 from Actress immediately begins a remembrance of 2010’s Splazsh. As the four on the floor gives way to swelling violins and generous arpeggios, the concept album loosely based on John Milton’s Paradise Lost, 2012’s R.I.P, comes to mind. 

You get five seconds of a groove here, a quick melody with a counterpoint there; the experience of this album begins to feel like piecing together a morse coded message and as you piece together your dots and tones together, you start to crack a smile. The signal may not strengthen but your love grows with each subsequent transmission. Many speak to Actress’ more later works post-Splazsh as sketches, but if 88 is galvanizing anything for me is that the message isn’t to be found in the fog and haze, it is the message. The in-between we decide ourselves is whats worth fighting for, not whatever structure we we’re told is necessary to best get your feelings across. What we feel in the in-between is our native tongue. The ’88’ at the end telegraph received in 1871 most likely is what let the heart swell to lovers apart. Morse code and radio signal in general can reach further at night as the signals can bounce off of Earth’s Ionosphere allowing much farther transmissions to reach. In 6th grade, we did this sort of thing for our HAM radio operator club (on brand, I know) where in the afternoon our puny device could reach China with my teacher speaking Mandarin to students on the other side of the world. Not much could be heard so shorthand like ’88’ was used and was responded by excited yells from children on different continents. What was said is not what matters, but what was felt. 

track titles with (maybe?) some songs being five seconds.

I must say, even piecing this writing began to feel like a code, hearing bits of side projects like Levantis and smaller releases like the Xoul EP in small songs where I had to write down timestamps as track titles we’re given but in a tweet with no numbers, its hard to feel solid on when a song begins and ends. The nostalgist in me related it to IDM Newsletter contributor Greg Eden piecing together names for Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume 2, with the track titles merely being pictures with name. Like Richard, this connect through the abstract felt different, like having a conversation with someone through design instead of dictating feeling and meaning on the back of a jewel CD case. 

The Aphex Twin Community / Learn / F.A.Q / The SAW II GRAPHICAL F.A.Q
SAW2’s track titles

The last suite reflects a monster work and namesake of this blog, Ghettoville. The beeps from AZD are ever present as they then form into a haze of desolation until ending on a murky but hopeful melody. Something that I’ve always felt about Actress’ mainline releases is that I feel like he’s carries the desire to end his work on a hopeful note. IWAAD, Visa, and Rule are the examples where each monochromatic tone poems surrounding Hell, cybernetic otherness, and poverty oft speaks towards a brighter future and 88 does something but a bit different, it speaks. The last few moments of the record before being driven back into the digital haze are words. Hard to decipher, yes, but you hear a voice. It feels like we can see the lighthouse just barely on the horizon after being out in the cold for so long. Maybe we’ve finally begun to get through and can understand what he’s been trying to say to us this whole time but we hadn’t the language to hear it really. Karma and Desire’s tracklist (once given in a ig story but is now switched from letters to triangles/the real ones know what’s up) suggests the jump from non-word into something spoken is on the way. Excited to hear what Darren has to say in his newfound tongue.

88

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