The acorn must crack in order for the seedling to sprout. That's the energy I felt when I saw Rashad Becker, a German mastering engineer and artist, perform his own music live at London's multi-venue MODE Festival back in September. The setting was a gutted building in the middle of the city's shopping district, which added its own layer of dissonance. This kind of move – staging cultural events within the bones of long-dead industrial spaces – often goes hand-in-hand with gentrification, but usually takes place in more residential areas. Yet here we were, in capitalism's lap, dancing in a patch of decay. From behind a sheet of mesh fabric, Becker bent over his hardware. Synthesized bells took on the quality of flint, generating sparks as they fell against each other. As distortion burnt holes in the melody, it felt like my psyche was cracking, too. "Narratively, in that piece, the intention is to create a sense of delirious desperation," Becker told me a few weeks after the festival. The source of the scorched textures I heard in his live set was his Haken Continuum synth and a liberal use of saturation. "Very generally speaking, coming from a punk and hardcore background, distortion always carried anger and angst and war with society to me, like it probably does for most people." While the conditions for distortion can be invited – for example, by pushing a speaker or instrument to its limits as Becker did, or via any number of digital methods – the form in which distortion manifests is never exactly the same. There are fuzz-type sounds, crackle-type sounds and so on, but the precise texture is a roll of the dice. Distortion's intensity is also on a spectrum. At a low level, it can recall the warmth, and friction, of skin on skin; a sonic rendering of a pleasurable shiver. At a more extreme degree, it can sound like raging fire, driving rain, howling wind, or falling earth; in fact, any force of nature intent on travelling beyond its bounds. In Moor Mother's hands, distortion pans the sands of time; a way to confront history's grip on the present. On the track "Sonic Black Holes," from her recent album Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes, the Philadelphia sound artist and poet loops a voice from an unnamed source. "I can fee-eel you," the singer repeatedly insists. (It's the kind of soulful sample that the late footwork pioneer DJ Rashad would fold into a jacking track, spinning emotion into motion.) The energy driving "Sonic Black Holes," however, is existential. A second voice — which sounds like jazz pianist, composer and singer Amina Claudine Myers — seems to confirm as much: "Ain't nobody ever gonna hear us?" The two vocal samples half-answer one another, until they are swallowed by a wave of distortion. There is feeling, this gesture seems to say, and then there is nothing. But that's not the whole truth. In the closing moments of the potent track, which in just 67 seconds grapples with the weight of systemic racism, both voices seem to re-emerge from the fray. In reality, with a closer listen, they were there all along.

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