Chris Carter is one of the most important figures in the pantheon of experimental electronic music. He came into prominence as a member of the avant-garde, visual arts, industrial group Throbbing Gristle, alongside Peter Christopherson (Coil), Genesis P-Orridge (Psychic TV) and Cosey Fanni Tutti, with who he still collaborates with the Chris & Cosey moniker. Apart from Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey, Carter has released a series of solo works, which unfortunately arrive less frequently than we would like.
In 1980 Carter released his debut, solo record in The Space Between, a truly bizarre offering that alongside other no-wave, experimental artists, set the foundations for the experimental, ambient and industrial methodologies that many would follow. The last solo album from Carter arrived in 1999, and in Small Moon, he further explored the abstract, downtempo edges of electronic music, with his usual ambitious scope.
Arriving almost 20 years after Small Moon, Chemistry Lessons Volume 1 is a work that does not so much extend the electronic music scene, but one that overarches it. Carter started working on the material for his new record before the death of fellow Throbbing Gristle member Peter Christopherson, and he mentioned that this event greatly influenced the sound of the new album. As one travels through the 25 lessons (tracks) of this work, they feel this impact on the result.
Chemistry Lessons Volume 1 is a very different record from Small Moon, and a very different offering from what we have come to expect from Carter. The obvious change is the runtime of the individual tracks, which on average do not surpass the three-minute mark. This change sees Carter investigating his music in a more confined space, not allowing himself to be absorbed by the natural continuation of ideas and expand on these. Each track is set on its own, the concepts are explored, and Carter then simply moves on to the next. Surprisingly, this limitation does not leave the sense that the concepts have been left open and unexplored, but rather that they offer glimpses of a grand design.
The grand design in this instance is electronic music as a whole, and that is the trip that Chemistry Lessons Volume 1 takes us on. The record starts off with the strangely upbeat and at the same time soothing “Blissters”, something that sees Carter going back to the basics, unleashing what is essentially a very straightforward and hooky dance track. The track is a perfect introduction, and it acts as the rabbit hole through which this journey begins. Invoking the discipline of chemistry in this instance is no mere chance, and as this trip continues, Carter stirs clear from the stimulants of his opening track and dives into more hallucinogenic themes. The psychedelic fumes of “Pillars of Wah” display a much stronger sense from the haze of these lessons, while the harsher and more metallic quality of “Post Industrial” displays a darker and more direct approach.
As the record progresses, it mutates, shedding its initial skin to morph into something different. The deeper one dives into in these lessons, the more darkness they encounter. Tracks like “Corvus” and “Tones Map” are miles apart from the dance motif of “Blissters”, channeling the lineage that Carter helped create. Similar is the case with the mysterious and strange undertones of “Noise Floor”, which arrives with a bitter, acidic element.
Chemistry Lessons Volume 1 is a record that offers an overture of the history of electronic music, something that Carter has helped shape. In this instance the artist explores all the different aspects of this sound, presenting an overarching work and condensing these in short forms. The process works perfectly and the movements from the dark, minimal realm of “Ars Vetus” all the way to the dance moments of the opening track, via the noir-esque labyrinth of “Modularity” and the sci-fi induced movements of “Lab Test”, does not seize to amaze.