Top 20 albums of 2012 #9: Actress – R.I.P–rip

16 December 2012

‘R.I.P’, a singular and cerebral testament to death and faith, quickly asserted dominance over 2012 when it was released back in April. Working as fall of man allegory for the 21st century,Actress (AKA Darren Cunningham) constructed a dark, poetic paean to our purgatorial, temporal existence. At times intensely claustrophobic at others revelatory, R.I.P has more in common with ‘Paradise Lost’ or ‘Dante’s Inferno’ than any contemporary electronic music… or music in general for that matter.

Cunningham has previously discussed in interviews how programming music is a science and that the resulting ideas he comes up with are, for him, a religion – that their very creation is a quasi act of repentance. This idea of faith informing your craft is hugely important as R.I.P is in many respects an abstract, wordless scripture. It’s an opus of personal and universal truisms as it documents life’s battle with inner demons and the struggle towards spiritual ascension and reincarnation. If one were feeling particularly succint you could accurately describe it as musical moksha.

He approaches programming with the studied reflection of a painter. Every part of this record is significant and there for a reason; like how Mark Rothko would sit for hours contemplating his next broad brushstroke you can practically hear Cunningham agonise over the inclusion of every snare and digital degradation. This concept of erosion brings an organic, humanistic quality to his heathen take on techno. It also allows him to work far from the pre-ordained grid, using samples far more fluidly than the minimalist precision equated with the likes of techno contemporaries such as Richie Hawtin.

‘Uriel’s Black Harp’ is a case in point, as waves of industrial digital noise decay in spirals around a descending harp line. The following ‘Jardin’ and ‘Serpent’ both allude in title to rich Judaeo-Christian religious symbolism, the former sounding like a distant cousin of Erik Satieand Aphex Twin whilst the latter a tense, almost rhythmless cacophony. The sense of mood is fundamental to the album’s narrative arc; the first segment is introspective and brooding but by the third act the tone is comparably ecstatic. ‘Caves of Paradise’ and ‘The Lord’s Graffiti’ echo the enlightenment of the protagonist whilst ‘N.E.W.’ represents the sense of reincarnated spiritual and physical purity.

Actress has come a long way in the course of his three album career. Working more like a vessel than a musician, he has imbued an incredibly disparate set of influences, from left-field techno and house to contemporary classical music and John Milton. R.I.P avoids classification at almost every turn but is probably best described as transcendental. In the philosophical tradition of Kant’s transcendentalism we must analyse the process that governs our experience in order for us to understand the nature of reality. To this end Actress has successfully helped give us a glimpse of a new reality.

By Nik Jeffries. Blogs at and tweets at njeffries

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