The Future Sound of London – FSOL:Digitana – The SX-One Live Improvisations

Having released a calendar album, a triple album, a collaborative album and a book with accompanying EP, one would assume that FSOL’s 2017 output was complete. And, of course, one would be wrong.

In 2017 it was announced that FSOL were working with Digitana on creating two synthesisers. The first, the SX-1, is an expander unit for the Synthi AKS which, unlike Digitana’s initial expander, doesn’t require a Synthi to use. Thus it is capable of a range of sounds similar to those of the classic EMS synth without having to purchase one. To give an idea of some of the sounds the device is capable of, instead of a quick YouTube clip, an entire album was made and released through FSOLDigital.

The SX-1 isn’t the only gear on the album, as the album’s accompanying videos show: two SX-1s are joined by a HALia (the second collaboration between FSOL and Digitana), with other gear also included. A further track showcasing the gear appears on YouTube, and a similar setup can be seen there:

The FSOLDigital page explains the process:

“4 tracks – 45 mins in total – live improvisations using the FSOL:DIGITANA sx-1Also includes 4 videos – filmed at the time of recording – showing the SX-1 in the recording chainIn addition a further 2 videos as a bonus.

A pitch and tempo is decided, a timeline is peppered with hits and noises
These act as que markers to move the synth settings and sequences forward
A set of sequences were created and stored for random access
The main time generator is started and the result is recorded to 1/4” 15ips tape on a Nagra IVs”

One of the very few fan criticisms of the material released between 2015 and 2016 was track length, with pieces often running for less than three minutes. The SX One Live Improvisations goes a long way to making up for that, with three of the four tracks running for over ten minutes. These tracks develop wonderfully over their longer runtimes, creating immersive soundscapes that are easy to get lost in, and including a few classic FSOL samples as easter eggs. The shorter track, ‘Origin Flows’, is quite different, being a (still reasonably long) five minute upbeat track, with a bouncy rhythm and almost poppy melody.

The six videos are interesting, with the three longer tracks represented by a static shot of the pieces being recorded. Brian’s hands can be seen using all of the gear, making it an unusually open look at a band known for being somewhat secretive. The two minute clip for ‘Origin Flows’ is filmed hand-held, with effects over the top, and looks more like a YouTube promo clip rather than a full video. The six minute live jam embedded above is featured as a bonus video entitled ‘Stochastic Process’, and ‘SX-1 Berlin’ is a brief glitchy video advertising the synth’s appearance at the 2017 Superbooth exhibition.

The videos do lead to one very pertinent question: are these tracks Brian solo pieces? With no setup footage, there’s nothing given about the origin of the samples and melodies, but they certainly confirm that the actual performances are simply by Brian, adding them to the small but important pile of known Brian solo tracks. Certainly the inclusion of ’90s samples means Gaz is definitely in there somewhere, even if he doesn’t appear directly on the actual performances.

Given the purpose of the release, it has remained a comparatively low-key entry into the band’s catalogue, to the extent that it doesn’t even appear on the FSOL Bandcamp. And while it’s not an album that I return to regularly, when I do listen, the lengthy tracks and the atmospheres they create – particularly the stunning ‘Optograms’ – are hugely enjoyable. The FSOLBoard consensus was that everybody hoped this longform approach would feed into Environment Seven at least a little.

Release date: 14th December 2017.

Digital download
1. Xertz
2. Optograms
3. Origin Flows
4. Minimally Conscious
5. Xertz Smaller E1 (Video)
6. Optogram (Video)
7. Origin Flows (Video)
8. Minimally Conscious Small E1 (Video)
9. Stochasticprocess (Video)
10. SX-1 Berlin (Video)

Purchase from FSOLDigital.

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