In the early 1980s, a pair of computer scientists, William Chamberlain and Thomas Etter, wrote an application dubbed Racter—short for “raconteur”—designed to generate prose according to a set of grammatical rules. The device was less a proper AI than a kind of literary automaton, yet its output was surprisingly convincing. Racter’s collected works appeared in 1984 as The Policeman’s Beard Is Half Constructed, a strange, captivating text with a Surrealist bent.

The duo Lost Girls—singer-songwriter-novelist Jenny Hval and multi-instrumentalist Håvard Volden—borrow one of Racter’s cryptic statements for the lyrics to “Losing Something,” a song from their own strange, captivating album Menneskekollektivet. “More than iron, more than lead, more than gold I need electricity,” Hval intones in a sing-song voice, dancing on the knife’s edge between sense and nonsense. “I need it more than I need lamb or pork or lettuce or cucumber.” She imbues this off-kilter verbiage with a playful spark that contrasts with the spare, dubbed-out drum machine accompaniment. “I need it for my dreams,” she says, and then repeats the phrase, singing it in a high, clear falsetto. This shift feels like when a black-and-white film suddenly bursts into color: What was shadowy and austere becomes a flood of supersaturated synths and guitar, surging forward in wave after wave. “Isn’t it that I’ve been losing something/I don’t know,” she sings in a soaring call and response, her voice layered in sparkling self-harmony. Hval and Volden have described the making of Menneskekollektivet as a process of improvising words and sounds until a coherent form took shape. In “Losing Something,” they harness Chamberlain and Etter’s experiment in automatic writing to turn the image of absence into an overwhelming fullness. However artificial its origins, it thrums with life.

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