Mariusz Duda - AFR AI D

Mariusz Duda – AFR AI D

Riverside’s frontman Mariusz Duda is a man brimming with ideas and creativity. Since 2008 his main side-project has been the rather different sonic worlds of Lunatic Soul, characterised by widescreen soundscapes infused with either folk or more electronic inflections, and sometimes both. During the pandemic, Mariusz decided to explore rather more stark electronic sound visions in Lockdown Spaces, Claustrophobic Universe, Interior Drawings and Let’s Meet Outside. Inevitably, as their titles suggest, those releases were steeped in the claustrophobic feelings of that strangely dislocated and restricted period. After his most recent and more celebratory Riverside album, ID. Entity, Duda has returned to his own more singular electronic musical endeavours with AFR AI D and, as the clever title suggests, he is considering the advent and rise of Artificial Intelligence – ‘AI’.

Mariusz described his different musical paths or ‘planets’ recently thus:

“One of those planets is Riverside. Another one Lunatic Soul. And then there’s this third planet, which I have been visiting most often in this decade. I haven’t given it any particular name because here is where I wanted to be myself from years ago. That kid who, eyes closed and a smile on his face, listened on and on to instrumental stories told by such artists as Vangelis, Tangerine Dream or Mike Oldfield.”

So what do we find on Duda’s own musical planet in AFR AI D?

Across eight songs, Mariusz uses a range of sonic palettes to paint more intricate and multi-layered songs than his more sparse and stark Lockdown releases. The album opens ominously with Taming Nightmares, bathed with a cinematic synth wash and dark distorted vocalisations, with eerie animal noises. Out of that darkness a repeating bright synth motif emerges. Bass and electronic percussion gradually add impetus until, nearing the end, Mateusz Owczarek adds flashes of electric guitar… perhaps, as the title suggests, out of the fear of AI there is hope that something brighter can emerge? Duda has shared that the processed voices and distorted vocal samples represent AI, while the electric guitars symbolise the human element.

Duda has explained the ideas behind this album:

“The inspiration… is the currently prevalent fear of artificial intelligence gradually appearing in our lives… with recurring questions: ‘Will AI take over our jobs?’, ‘Will AI eventually take control of us?’… As it is about fear, I wanted the album to have an undercurrent of anxiety. However, I didn’t want it to turn into a celebration of fear and anxiety. The main message is encoded in the title of the first track: Taming our Nightmares.”

Good Morning Fearmongering continues that sense in a sinister, percussive beat with an oscillating pulsing throb – with distinct echoes of Tangerine Dream. The curiously titled Fake me Deep, Murf is more reminiscent of Duda’s Lunatic Soul material, with echoey organic sounds over an undulating background. Tinkling raindrop synth notes are sprinkled over the surface of the song, intertwining with echoing plangent guitar accents. It rolls along rather fluidly, although one does wonder if it ever gets anywhere… which may just be the point.

A simple glistening piano line opens the delicate Bot’s Party rather delightfully. A smooth bassline and subtle percussion join the procession. Bot’s Party develops into a playful piece with treated, distorted vocoder elements… it almost sounds like a conversation; maybe the ‘small chat’ at a party for Bots?! The fun really starts later in the song with some wonderfully lithe but distorted rippling guitar lines, smoothly laid on by Mateusz Owczarek. Apart from some frivolity, there is also beauty in this album with the cascading electronic harpsichord arpeggios which flow throughout the gorgeous I Love to Chat With You. Probably a reference to ChatGP AI technology… but that does not stop it being a lush, engaging piece with weird ghost-like vocalisations weaving through the cascade of harpsichord-like sounds.

Mariusz Duda states that he is sceptical about ‘Cassandrian visions’ (hence the title of Why So Serious, Cassandra? – Cassandra being a figure in Greek mythology whose visions of the future were true, but she was cursed in that no-one ever believed her). The song itself is percussively insistent with a weird synth melody, but is one of the less engaging pieces on this album. In contrast, Mid Journey to Freedom is more hypnotic, with a bubbling synth intro which picks up tempo with a mesmerising swaying rhythm. It is fairly minimalistic but draws you in.

The final song of the album is also the lengthiest and most ambitious composition, Embracing the Unknown. Alongside the opening Taming Nightmares, this closing number encapsulates Mariusz Duda’s thinking about the rise of AI technology in modern society:

“I am not afraid of new technologies. I think AI is just another tool which, over time, we will learn to use in a better way, and which will speed up work in many areas. In spite of a slight subconscious fear of the unknown, I am ready to embrace the future.”

As well as covering the theme of the album, this expansive piece also characterises the range of musical ideas found on this captivating release. There is a cinematic scope to the sweep of the main theme with spectral sounds swooping above the John Carpenter soundtrack throbbing synth line. However, this initial sense of fear or anxiety fades away to a peaceful, gentle scene. We commenced the album in darkness and fear, and we finish the album in calm with delicate guitar chords seemingly suggesting that these fears can be controlled or tamed… and then, as Duda has stated, “Finally, we achieve silence and comfort”.

Looking back, I struggled with the stark rawness and claustrophobic atmospheres of the previous Mariusz Duda Lockdown albums – it may have honestly expressed what Mariusz was feeling at the time, but in that period, as a listener, it was too much and too raw. I needed something to lift me out of those restrictive, suffocating feelings rather than immerse myself more into that depressive morass. In contrast, AFR AI D is altogether more multi-layered, melodic, engaging and definitely more uplifting conceptually. The results are not always wholly successful or fully engaging, but generally the high points far outweigh any of the less enthralling elements.

Mariusz Duda often seeks to tell a story or explore a concept, and in AFR AI D he has skilfully used electronic music and sounds to touch on one of the most important subjects of modern times. Curiously, amidst all the electronica, sampled and distorted voices and the focus on AI, Mariusz has been able to musically evoke the very real human feelings felt in the face of these developments and the anxiety of the unknown in this high-quality album. Strangely, after listening to the evocative musical landscapes and ideas explored in AFR AI D, the listener will hopefully come away feeling less afraid of AI and embrace the future… after all, why be so serious?

(NB: ChatGP and AI technology were not used in the writing of this review!)

01. Taming Nightmares (7:20)
02. Good Morning, Fearmongering (5:14)
03. Fake Me, Deep Murf (4:48)
04. Bot’s Party (5:00)
05. I Love to Chat with You (3:43)
06. Why So Serious, Cassandra (4:56)
07. Mid Journey to Freedom (3:09)
08. Embracing the Unknown (8:00)

Total Time – 42:10

Mariusz Duda – All Electronic Instruments & Programming
~ With:
Mateusz Owczarek – Guitar

Record Label: Kscope
Country of Origin: Poland
Date of Release: 17th November 2023

– Lockdown Spaces (2020)
– Claustrophobic Universe (2021)
– Interior Drawings (2021)
– Let’s Meet Outside (2021)

Mariusz Duda – Website | Facebook