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Experimental Half-Life rave album Panopticon is out today

Earlier this week, Alice O pointed out the work of Graham Dunning, an artist who creates improvised dance music in Half-Life by replacing the game’s audio with clips from 90s rave tracks and sample CDs. Now, Twitch isn’t known for being the greatest music-streaming platform about, so this weekend Dunning released Panopticon – a moody album of experimental noise arranged in Valve’s seminal 1998 shooter.

Even if I’m entirely too young to have ever staggered out of a warehouse covered in glowsticks and good vibes, Black Mesa’s experimental rave slaps pretty hard. But while there are elements of performance to Dunning’s streams, it’s hard to pop on a two-hour twitch VOD while out for a jog. Released today, Panopticon rearranges that mess of generative noise into a more listenable, deliberately-curated package.

(Your mileage may vary as to how “listenable” it actually is. Taste and all.)

To the untrained ear, it’s hard to find Half-Life‘s imprint at first listen. But rest assured, Valve’s ’98 shooter has left a particularly resonant cascade on Panopticon’s soundscape.

Drumbeats are synced to Gordon Freeman’s footsteps, sure, and the staccato semi-automatic rhythm of pistols, shotguns and crowbar swipes mark much of the album’s rhythm. But Half-Life’s soundscape also had some unique, bizarre quirks. Anyone who’s spent any time in Black Mesa’s labyrinthine vents will immediately pick up the notably flange-tinted reverb in “Yellow Henge (Radio Occult)”.

If you’re interested in the process, Dunning is currently streaming another session over on Twitch. At time of writing, he’s just burst a particularly creepy Gargantua before Half-Life’s infamous tram segment – the alien brute chanting “come take a trip to my won-der-land” as it chases him down. Ghastly.

Panopticon is available to stream on Bandcamp now. If you’re feeling extra old-school and have a tape player kicking about, £9 will get you an honest-to-god cassette.

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Natalie Clayton

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