His birth certificate is simply Alexander Duncan – the H (Henry) is a short story for later. Welcome to the world of Alex H Duncan. His music is from a different universe, of a non-human origin. Another being, another species deciding on the pitch, tempo, cadences, and musical structures. Alex uses devices to collect midi data from trees, plants, fungi and then plugs this data into sound generators and synthesisers. After connecting the midi data from a spider plant in his studio and listened to the notes on a Moog Mother32 his life changed forever.
“Once you’ve heard how a plant’s music changes when it’s distressed, watered, fed, or even picked (killed, in fact), everything changes, so much so that my relationship to the planet is now different; it is somehow more refined, deeper, perhaps even closer to a truth.” The human condition seems to be one of kill and destroy right now. Whilst Alex believes it’s important that human’s should stop doing this, that’s not what his art is about. It’s about appreciating, caring, understanding that a life was taken – given even – for you and I to survive, and we shouldn’t ever forget that. It’s a daily privilege and a luxury not afforded to everyone. We are so lucky. Perhaps it’s time we stopped fucking this up.
Alex was born in 1966, when his parents decided to mortgage their lives away and buy a farm in Devon. His father, a brilliant photographer and man of science, was born in the 1920s in Manchester and though he was brought up in Staffordshire, his heart longed for Devon. A man of the earth, an original green thinker, at five years of age, he’d already shown Alex how to murder and dress a chicken. From an early age he was taught to both appreciate and use resources that were to hand. No waste, ever. Much later in his 30s Alex built a home, ‘Candyland Studios’, for his wife and children out of recycled materials, based on those principles.
By the time Alex was 10 and working with my father in the woods, his ideas were seeping in. “Leave those rotten logs, they will feed the invertebrates,” or “Don’t chop down those brambles, the rabbits live there.” So, when he pointed out to Alex how an oak tree can communicate via its roots to its saplings and actively protect them from some encroaching willows, Alex started to think. His father was so good at making the young Alex think.
His Father (Keith) is buried in a field Alex owns (no gods nor waste, even in his death). The grave site is completely wild, covered in trees and flowers. The trees seem to love him. Life springs eternal from his remains and the circle of life continues. When Alex noticed psilocybin semilanceata(magic mushrooms) growing near his grave, he thought it an opportunity too good to miss. Collecting midi data from them and Alex began what was to become his latest album ‘Subcubensis’. The album is all structured around that data. Yes, there is occasional human input and playing, but the humans tread carefully, and radio recordings from the year of his father’s birth add subliminal tones. Considering his father’s very nutrients and molecules were growing in those mushrooms, the album feels like a paean to my father.
For better or worse, humanity is all about repetition, beat, pulse; it has become mechanistic. Alex had spent years putting on festivals, running rigs under tarps, quantizing his beats, strumming his guitars. as Alex has discovered plants and fungi are not interested in our machine-like utterings. Imagine the math necessary to convey the complexity of a forest floor or the leaves of a tree. In nature there are no loops or repeats but such beautiful patterns, and textures, such depth. Listening to music that isn’t human changes both your perceptions of the planet and introduces you, perhaps, to a different way of thinking. The rush of the instant beat is gone, leaving your brain time and space to think and consider. For Alex, it’s beautiful, transformative really – more like yoga as opposed to doing repetitive weights.
This is about awareness of what is beneath our feet: vast networks of mycelium and mycorrhizae connect plants to each other, like an organic internet. When you walk through the woods, they follow your movement collecting the nutrients released by your steps. The patterns they form are not unlike the neurons inside our own minds and this connectivity may well be the harbinger to all sorts of unknown communication. Isn’t that amazing? The planet is doing so much at a subterranean level.
Alex’s music is about that: the pulse of our planet. While we fuss and fiddle above, deep below us great things are happening. As you listen to Alex’s music, he wants you to imagine traveling these networks, moving beneath the busyness above, deep into the vast lava flows and back through time. Eventually it’s where we go and where we came from. To forget that is arrogance. Alex says, “love the mud! After all, we are earth.” By producing music that is sourced in the earth, from nature herself, Alex is trying to help us understand more, maybe remember that which we’ve forgotten and ultimately, to love the magnificent journey of life – maybe even be better as a species? Fuck it, we’ve got to try.
Subcubensis is released on the 26th June 2022 on IP records. The streaming version features 10 tracks. The download/physical version also features 2 bonus tracks. Oh, and that H? My father refused to call me Alexander or Alex – only Henry. I was never sure why, but now it’s a perfect reminder of him, a small nod to his brilliant mind. Alex H Duncan’s current and back catalogue of material can be viewed by clicking here.