Object Collection’s You Are Under Our Space Control (Slip)

Since 2004, writer/director Kara Feely and composer Travis Just, under the name Object Collection, have been creating works for theater designed to present experimental viewing experiences that play with preconceived ideas of both time and narrative. In 2018, Object Collection released It’s All True, an “opera-in-suspension” that uses only sounds and conversations between songs from the mammoth Fugazi Live Archive series. So it should come as no surprise that Object Collection’s newest vinyl release, You Are Under Our Space Control (Slip Imprint) looks to many disparate subjects as its footholds and inspirations. Musically, it is both a collage and a long form electronic work–its foundation is a transcription of John Cage’s Music of Changes, but programmed and manipulated in a drum machine. The libretto (written by Feely) is inspired by science fiction (its title is taken from Cy Roth’s Fire Maidens From Outer Space) and features text from interviews with astronauts, both real and imagined.

You Are Under Our Space Control evades narrative as much as it invites listeners to draw their own connections and conclusions, providing a series of snapshots of everyday life in a radically reimagined world. Without the aid of supplemental materials, any plot line is hard to parse out, but perhaps part of the fun of a work like this lies in the vagaries. This reaches its height in the section from tracks 15 (“Death Is Dead”) to 17 (“Thinking About Equations”), with music that is comparatively sparse and results in difficulty picking out a definite narrative structure without being present for a live performance (this September in London and January 2020 at La MaMa).

Every track on You Are Under Our Space Control stands on its own as a self contained composition, but all 18 movements work together as a cohesive whole that explores myriad soundscapes and electronic textures. The first movement, “Full Contrast,” is an infectious burst of energy that immediately sucks the listener into a world of house-esque sounds and processed voices. The vocals throughout You Are Under Our Space Control (performed by Avi Glickstein, Deborah Wallace, and Daniel Allen Nelson) strike a satisfying balance between their directness and their ability to be both quirky and artistic, as anthemic slogans (“Human, Humans”) give way to a more abstract stream of consciousness (“Wow” and “Total Trance”).

Object Collection--Photo by Chris Verene

Object Collection–Photo by Chris Verene

“Wow” and “Ships” together clock in at just over a minute but provide some of the catchiest musical moments on the record. “Wow” is more abstract, initially featuring a constant re-orchestration that would be reminiscent of Webern if it wasn’t played on processed electronic instruments. This texture quickly segues into a delightful haze of rhythmic energy and pitch-shifted vocals. “Wow” showcases how economically Travis Just uses his musical materials. The movement feels as though it is overflowing with new ideas, but on repeated listenings, it becomes clear that “Wow” is mostly based on one ostinato. “Ships” has an atmosphere that reminds the listener of techno. However, as soon as any semblance of a pop structure reveals itself, the song deconstructs into a jumble of drum machine sounds, with an off-kilter detuned synthesizer in the background. “Ships” best achieves what the music throughout the entire album attempts; finding a balance between catchy pop semblances and avant-garde electronic textures.

“More Hospitable Than Antarctica Might Be” is a standout track that starts much in the same way as the rest of the record–a mish-mash of synthesizer and drum machines–but the vocal performance here sets the movement out from the rest, particularly in its intensity. “More Hospitable” walks a fascinating tightrope in which it would be just as much at home in underground punk rock as it is at a modernist concert hall.

You Are Under Our Space Control isn’t easy listening–not because it’s not satisfying music, but because its intentions and forms are not instantly recognizable. However, the performances are compelling and the overall composition is cohesive. You Are Under Our Space Control doesn’t hand the audience easy answers or conclusions. Instead, Object Collection challenges the listener to think deeply and critically in a search for meaning and connection.