Shanghai Restoration Project – R.U.R.

Humanity has a habit of banging on about the end of days. If you scan history you’ll notice that there have been peaks and troughs in human confidence. We have a fondness for building up empires, and then running around acting all surprised as they crumble. It’s actually quite reassuring, if you stand well back, to take it all in – this fantastic process of chaos and order in ebb and flow. As long as you have humans, you have art. And as long as you have art, you have artifacts that show countless creation myths. And you have all kinds apocalyptic forecasting. Let’s think about that for a bit.

Enjoying the chaos, and imagining a world devoid of humans, are The Shanghai Restoration Project (SRP). SRP are Brooklyn-based electronic producer/musician Dave Liang, and multidisciplinary artist Sun Yunfan, and the duo has created a vision of the future in which robots have survived humans. This vision is presented on the new album, R.U.R. and it’s a deeply pleasing collection of beeps and beats.

The album gets its abbreviated name from a stage play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, which is almost a hundred years old, and also the cultural origin of the word ‘Robot’. The robots imagined by Liang and Yunfan are trying to figure the cause of humanity’s extinction, a concept that’s not too hard to imagine. Sonically, the tracks involve themselves in a range of very human thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Things like; pleasure, loss, puzzlement.

On discovery of a time capsule the robots learn of humanity’s worst aspects; narcissism, materialism, and the disregard for the natural environment. However, it’s not all damning stuff, there’s celebration too – humans weigh the balance with their accomplishments in agriculture, art, and science. Of course, because robots are smart, they begin to wonder if the universe will ever encounter such strange creatures as humans ever again. The questions produce a deeply beguiling album.

Track titles feel like they’ve been assembled by a cut-and-paste artist; “Supermega Cosmomall”, “Triple Speed Taichi” and “Telemicroscope” bring together elements of a broad synchronicity, and for their oddness there’s a substance that tolerates close inspection. The tracks really do throw together these seemingly random, but sensibly rewarding visions. “Library Breakin’” with its jaunty apostrophe, and retro-futuristic electric keys sounds like a Beastie Boys instrumental, also big fans of robots and the Brooklyn Public Library.

One highlight of the collection is “Expedition Voronya”. This tracks feels like an island jam, a holiday jaunt in which exotic drinks are served in hollowed out, and even more exotic fruits. There’s so much light and shine in a track like this that any uncertainty brings a sense of adventure. The process of learning moves us all from fear, and toward the light.

The concept of the album may sound morbid, but at no time does The SRP linger on any sense of dread or concern. There’s no real sense of fear or foreboding – because what is valued, and what remains constant in this universe is Intelligence. These robots, existing on the other side of the apocalypse, are smart and intuitive – the landscape that they explore is as much a part of their projection as our human world is a thing of our making. The value of a concept such as ‘art’ or ‘agriculture’ sits less with its creator, and more in the expression of the process that brings it into being. The SRP are celebrating the survival of process – they see where the value lies, and they bring it forward.

For R.U.R. we award The Shanghai Restoration Project the number 42. Or 23. Whichever they prefer in the brave new world.

Shanghai Restoration Project RUR Album Cover



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