Lee Gamble
Photo: Hyperdub

Lee Gamble’s ‘Models’ Wallows in AI’s Unharnessability

Lee Gamble recognizes that AI is outstripping our ability to understand or harness it. Models can be seen as an unsettling commentary on that reality.

Lee Gamble
20 October 2023

Lee Gamble has spent the last decade creating club-emptying UK techno that decries late-stage capitalist consumerism, complete with deepfakes of his voice, dark ambiance, not-quite raves that split the difference between GAS and the Ragga Twins, and twitchy bursts of overwhelming percussive goop that perfectly capture urban and virtual-space sensory overload. It’s as if he’s been commenting on an overheated club culture from the sidelines even as he dives into the stink of a packed house.

Musically, his darkest moments nod to Burial while recognizing the once-groundbreaking dance-as-art stews concocted by Autechre. But then, assuming what one of his records sounds like based on the last one is a terrible idea. Models is a case in point. Its murky tracks are made partially from entirely AI-generated voices that revel in the technology’s freedoms as well as its limitations. It might also be the chilliest, most-pop sounding record in his catalogue, even if the music often comes off as a few rungs shy of despondent.

It lurches to a start with “Purple Orange”, as a murky Auto-Tuned voice gibbers unintelligibly over an echo-based, stop/start sonic sludge. It might be what AI sounds like if it’s woken from a slumber or given an impossible task. But as the record opens up, so do the voices. “Juice” wavers along more hopefully, and by the time of “Xith c Spray”, a pattern not entirely at odds with the rhythms coaxed from a Zimbabwean mbira player cushions a slightly more confident vocal sailing along on a yet-to-be-invented language. It’s a truly beautiful sound to behold as it cruises toward a billowy sunset.

The vocals employed here continue to pick up melodic steam as they repeat unknown phrases as glacial synth drapes them in a haze. “She’s Not” is an excellent example of Gamble’s ability to create music of disquieting familiarity. Eventually, the kinds of grooves found on past albums, 2014’s Koch comes to mind, appear. On “Blurring”, it’s as if the voice has found its footing over a rubbery springboard of beats where the high end appears only for seconds at a time. It’s the sound of playing vinyl on a turntable with a lopsided tonearm.

Yet, the voices on Models, at best, stumble along awkwardly, even as they seem to gather their sea legs, sort of the aural equivalent to Marquez’s short story angel in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”

In a recent interview, Gamble stated, with regard to the voices in Models, “It’s about the idea that these aren’t real people, but it’s not suggesting the replacement of people.” Ultimately, this record addresses a world conducted by often creepy algorithmic predictions by embracing them, allowing them room to grow, mutate, and be sculpted into something personal, dark, and perhaps hesitantly optimistic. Gamble recognizes that AI technology is outstripping our ability to understand or harness it. His latest release can be seen as an unsettling commentary on that reality.

RATING 7 / 10