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S.F.'s Red Red Red Makes Industrial Music with Pastoral Impulses 

Wednesday, Jun 18 2014
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The cover of Michael Wood's debut release looked striking online: Etched black spirals and notches cradled his solo moniker, Red Red Red, and the EP's title, Pattern Completion. His label, Function Operate, accepted pre-orders, and reviews of Wood's clamoring electronic grooves and quivering synthesizers appeared online. Built from the blueprints of pioneering industrial music, Wood's deft use of vintage gear evokes the mood of a future technocratic nightmare, and established him as one of San Francisco's finer purveyors of the sound.

But Wood has never seen a physical copy of Pattern Completion.

The roll-out of the EP derailed when Function Operate stopped returning Wood's emails. Last February, after months without communication from label operator Julian Denis, Wood denounced the label online. (Denis didn't respond to a request for comment.) Function Operate appears not to have manufactured any physical copies of Pattern Completion.

"The process of waiting and not knowing was a jab in the creative soul of this project," Wood says. Yet the interest of local label operator Josh Cheon revived Red Red Red. Cheon's Dark Entries imprint primarily focuses on reissues, giving its less-frequent contemporary releases a special place in the catalog. Wood seized the opportunity to revisit the four tracks originally intended for the EP, then created four more to fill out an album.

"When I reworked the original tracks, I aimed to match the aesthetic and intention of the entire body of work," he says. "The definition of 'Pattern Completion' reflects this collective sense of gathering material over an extended period of time. The EP needed a rebuttal, and the B-side tracks fill that desired dialog."

Red Red Red's album also bears the title Pattern Completion — but deserves it more than the aborted EP. Here, synth notes contort out of key and disintegrate into white noise above mechanical beats. Wood coaxes out the glitches, wavering tones, and analog saturation of vintage synthesizers, charging the machinery with the frenetic energy of its human operator. His voice sounds authoritative, uttering sharp commands in carefully enunciated succession. That enforces an austere mood, unrelieved by the lyrics, which Wood says are inspired by reading Nietzsche and Sartre on Muni. Songs like "Concrete/Sand" look at the intuitive appeal of natural space from the perspective of a beleaguered urbanite, cloistered by public transit and warehouse studios.

"I've noticed over time that my working environments have maintained direct influence over my creative output," he says. A recent graduate from San Francisco State University, where he studied audio production, Wood recorded Pattern Completion in the basement of local music complex Bay Area 51. As nearby industrial noise carried into Wood's studio, he says, "I ended up creating a dialog between myself and the exterior landscape." Likewise, when the functions of his rusting gear went awry, Wood incorporated the damage into his compositions. Wood's music grapples with metropolitan alienation, but his absorbing and recasting of that environment lends Pattern Completion its organic feel and humanizing imperfections.

Machinery aside, Wood is very much in control, and that's especially clear live. Behind the pulsing lights of a veritable synth arsenal, Wood writhes and gestures emphatically. Synth soloists often look preoccupied with their gear, gazing downward at a menagerie of electronics instead of engaging with the crowd. Red Red Red is a beaming exception. Indeed, Cheon says it was Wood's consummate live show that first interested Dark Entries.

The cover of Pattern Completion shows Wood on a green hillside, dwarfed by trees and nearly enshrouded in fog. For an album that's ostensibly all about the city, the image at first seems an ill fit. As Wood explains, that's the point. "The content of the album examines a polar opposition of forces ... within the context of the modern metropolis," he says. Weary of what he considers the narrow confines of the genre, Wood avoids calling himself an "industrial" musician. That untethers him from the need to present Pattern Completion as an industrial album. The cover choice also reflects points made in Wood's lyrics, such as the song "Enforcer," which examines how images get bound up by their cultural associations. As he'd like people to notice, Pattern Completion's album cover only strikes viewers as an odd choice because meadows and greenery don't evoke gloomy synthesizers.

The cover shot was taken during the filming of an upcoming music video for "Concrete/Sand." Created by local filmmaker Melissa Joy Bernier, the video contrasts nature with city life, and strives to visually represent Wood's music. It shows dancer Heather Clark in the forest, interpreting individual rhythmic elements of the song with her own choreography. The video depicts Clark's differing routines as she navigates a woodsy setting — a suitable parallel to the way Wood's mechanical musical patterns resolve, eventually, into a statement on nature.

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