John Burton, aka Leafcutter John, born in West Yorkshire, originally wanted to be a painter, and studied at Norwich School Of Art. Burton was also a songwriter, spending his spare time composing folk songs on a guitar. Them one day, he bought a PC, to type his university assignments. That’s when he discovered the possibilities of electronic music. That was four years ago…
At the time, Burton didn’t own any electronic music records, but, fortunately, some of his friends did. A crash course in contemporary artists and different forms of music later, he was ready to release a first EP, Concourse, then, a few months later, an album, on Mike Paradinas’ very own label, Planet Mu. From the intro of the first track of Microcontact, you know you’ve stumbled across something unusual. Heavily relying on machines, Burton relies even more on the inspiration he gets from environmental noises and acoustic sounds recorded in all sorts of different places or situation, or during sonic workshops he organises in art galleries. When asked about people who inspire him, Burton cites Chasm, Main or Richard D James, as well as Pierre Henry, Karlheinz Stockhausen or Pierre Schaeffer. And, listening to Microcontact, the analogy between Leafcutter John and the musique concrète movement is quite obvious. If not as remote as the music produced by any of these composers, Burton’s creations remain quite difficult to apprehend, even when he flirts with more conventional electro, as on track 9, or when traces of his past as a folk musician can be found on track 5. However, his deconstructed structures are strangely appealing. Sometimes similar to Autechre’s work (track 1, track 6), Microcontact has more connections with Mike Dred’s and Peter Green’s 1998 Virtual Farmer, in that, while it introduces a very abstract concept, the intensity of the atmospheres captured is still very much intact after the treatments are applied. Like Virtual Farmer, Microcontact is very much a human record, which interacts with the outside world as much as it does with its own, exposing in the process Burton as a very creative musician, attentive to his environment and to what he can do with it.
Microcontact is a very unusual record, even by today’s standard. While not completely unique nor uniquely original, this album is refreshing and challenging enough to put it above the rest, and to isolate Leafcutter John as an exceptional creator.