This track off the Hyperdub artist's remarkable ‘Xorcism' EP is a powerful vision of bodily subservience, but carries a message of steadfast refusal to give up on spirit.
Voodoo, the main sonic inspiration for our Song of the Week, The Spaceape’s He Gave His Body Over To Science, is Haiti’s dominant religion. A spiritually vibrant belief system whose overriding focus is not performing black magic (as some still believe), but the curing of sickness and disease, the vast majority of Voodoo rituals are used to summon spirits of family, or “Rada”, who are generally peaceful. Drumming is synonymous with Haitian Voodoo music, and an essential component of the ceremonial process. The track below, titled Afranchi (which The Spaceape samples in He Gave His Body…), demonstrates the dense and cascading nature of much grouped Voodoo drumming. While thickly detailed, this rhythm still possesses a central dominant beat, one whose clarity mimics the human voice. On his sample of Afranchi, it is this clear and precise rhythm that The Spaceape, real name Stephen Samuel Gordon, uses as the focal point for his vocal delivery – as if his voice is melting into the beat itself.
Afranchi – Drummers of the Societe Absolument Guinin
Removed from context, such beat-heavy instrumentation positions us sound-wise in a classic spoken-word template of beat poetry, bongo drums and early Gil Scott-Heron. Although perhaps absent on an isolated listen, these rhythms are instilled with deep spiritual and sacred connotations. And while comparisons to Gil Scott-Heron might rightfully promote The Spaceape from being “that bloke who talks over some Kode9 beats” to the status of poet, it still sells short the production at work here. In a manner that mirrors Afranchi’s multilayered drumming patterns, the vocal is cut-up and overdubbed, manipulated to vary in pitch and tone. Deep in the track’s recesses, one such vocal snippet buzzes away menacingly, as if a more untoward Voodoo spirit is gently being summoned.
Whitey On The Moon – Gil Scott Heron
With skilled linguistic vigour, we flip into a hellish vision of corporeal experimentation; the imagery speaks more to the deviant science of Dr. Frankenstein than to any rational notions of medical procedure. But as the sampling, and summoning, of Voodooist music speaks to, this is a work driven most by a remarkably attuned sense of the spiritual, and the determination that it can inspire. “He gave his body over to science/He said from now on ‘I’ll be compliant‘” goes the track’s central refrain. But as those cyclical rhythms continue to fall, and we hear the understated determination in Gordon’s voice as he spits out his words, it is clear that the message intended is one far from embracing compliancy. It is at this point that referring to the fact Gordon is currently in a three-year battle with a rare form of cancer shows just what a bold work this really is.
Gordon’s previous work, mostly in collaboration with Kode9, has been focused around ideas rooted in science fiction – of “hostile aliens” and Ballardian invasions of future memories. While tinged with elements of the supernatural, He Gave His Body To Science most powerfully displays a man in the midst of crisis daring to tackle complex and vivid questions surrounding death and morality in a manner that’s compelling and original. As is also apparent throughout the Xorcism EP, this is a striking evocation of spiritual resistance – of the power of not giving up hope even as cold, rational voices call for the acceptance of defeat.