“We won’t retreat. This band is unstoppable!”
Those sampled words that come on top of “Retreat! Retreat!’, an anthemic song by instrumental post-rock band 65daysofstatic, has long been adopted as a rallying cry by fans during their propulsive live shows. The Sheffield-based quartet’s latest project takes that statement of intent to heart: it’s literally unstoppable.
Almost. Rubble systems is a collection of several dozen algorithmic systems that have been playing continuously — barring an occasional crash — since March 2021. These systems — essentially pieces of music-generating code called things like “Mumble Prime” and “Harp Collateral” — generate everything from soothing ambient soundscapes to spicy drum and bass workouts interspersed with the occasional robotic ‘ad’. There are no songs as such: each system simply plays until its time is up, then passes the baton to the next.
On the project’s YouTube channel, a lo-fi screen displays minimal information about the current system above a scrolling chiron displaying cryptic messages. His “developer blog” is full of updates that mix nerdy details of music-making with fun glimpses into life behind the scenes at 65Labs, the sprawling (and largely fictitious) global operation of techies, bots and servers that keeps the machines running working. The overall effect is of a retro dystopia: Spotify in the world of Blade Runner.
“We’ve built this kind of deliberate myth about it—a lot of the blog posts and so on. are characteristic,” says band member Paul Wolinsky. “But at the same time, they are not consistent at all. Obviously, nobody believes in it, so it’s kind of a theater, a performance, but it’s not one-way for us. We encourage everyone to go along with it.” The project’s Discord fans seem happy to play along, riffing on the idea of a semi-sentient machine ecosystem fueled by episodes like the bug in May, when multiple systems began playing simultaneously to create a “relentless A 56-minute record of algo-hyper-noise.”
Rubble systems is not 65daysofstatic’s first foray into infinite music. From their beginnings in post-rock, their output has steadily become more electronic and experimental. Forays into danceable techno and soundtracks eventually led to a 2013 commission for the universe simulator soundtrack No man’s sky— or more accurately, an endless set of soundtracks, since the game’s USP is its endless supply of procedurally generated planets to explore.
To meet this challenge, the band recorded both a conventional soundtrack album and hours of related audio snippets and cues that could be reassembled by the game engine to resonate with the environment and the player’s actions. This led to 2018 Decomposition theory a series of concerts in which the audio and visuals were partially generated on the fly each night, with unpredictable results – an approach closer to algo-rave and live-encoding scenes than to their previous live sets – and then to replica, 2019cold, highly calculating snippets worth an entire album.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, 65daysofstatic, like most bands, found themselves unable to record or tour in person. Unlike most, they were already equipped with algorithms to create new 65-day static music – some of them were intended for a project to “broadcast” the results to the world. So while they release compilations of unreleased songs as part of a subscription project supported by Patreon, Year of the ruinsthey also began to work on what would become Rubble systems.