November 19, 2012
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Emerging Aesthetics: Music About Dance Music

In many ways, Electronic Dance Music is the ultimate breeding ground for hyper-memetics. Moreso than any other genre, EDM has evolved in such a way that new subgenres not only embody smaller and more specific aesthetics, but are often born out of a SINGLE sound or piece of kit. Without the Amen break, there would be no Jungle, without the 303, there would be no Acid. While the mutation of hyper-specific sound-sets is usually exciting at first, it often leads in short order to carbon-copying and ultimately, a loss of objective judgment. How can something be good or bad, when it can only sound one way?

Over the last few years, a new and curious crop of sonic experimenters has emerged, focusing their efforts on the re-contextualization of the ubiquitous sonic tropes and cultural baggage that define the norms of dance music culture. When the most thoughtless cliches are left to thrash in a vacuum, their absurdity quickly becomes inescapable. In this time of total cultural access, forward-thinking artists are choosing self reflection. This is Music About Dance Music.

 

Lesser – “Adios Amen”
Lesser is the snide, punk-indebted laptop-based project of one Jason Doerck, whose halcyon days in Northern California coincided with more high-minded experimentalists like Matmos, and snotty MAX/MSP brats like Kid606. While the vast majority of his output is of questionable quality and motivation, I’ve always enjoyed “Adios Amen”, his super-cynical sendup of the Amen break from 1998. Tweaked, time-stretched, and echoed beyond all recognition, the track is a ludicrous “fuck you” to the useless manipulations of the Drum and Bass genre that spawned his career.

 

DJ Sprinkles – “Grand Central, Pt. 1 (Deep into the Bowels of House)”
Terre Thaemlitz, aside from being a supremely sensitive sound manipulator (and a personal hero), is a master of critical discourse, especially when it comes to the world of dance music culture. His 2009 album “Midtown 120 Blues” under the DJ Sprinkles moniker is an earnest, compassionate memoir of the troubled world of New York gay nightlife that he experienced firsthand in the ’80s and ’90s. The journey of House music from underground phenomena to popular feel-good cash-in is told through 10 tracks of somber, deep-house explorations, peppered with his own narration throughout. Possibly the strongest example of “Music About Dance Music” here, and a mirror image of Lesser’s critic-baiting temper tantrums, Terre makes his intentions entirely clear.

 

Lorenzo Senni – “Makebelieve”
Lorenzo Senni, the 28-year-old founder of the Presto!? label (home to such avant luminaries as Marcus Schmickler, CM Von Hausswolff, and Lasse Marhaug), can be credited with putting this entire notion of meta-EDM in my brain. His newest LP “Quantum Jelly” was a formed around a dead-simple concept: Trance build-ups, isolated and extended to song length. The result is an oddly beguiling set of bubbling, minor-key arpeggiations that twist through an utter vacuum. Waiting for a drop that never comes gives these pieces a sort of wistful charm, despite their stark, digital sheen.

 

Mark Fell – “SOA-2″
Mark Fell has been creating boundary-pushing electronic music for over a decade as half of SND, and most recently under the moniker Sensate Focus. This newest project, while ostensibly comprising his most danceable material to date, might also be his most subversive. Each release(now totaling 4 12″s and a double LP), uses an almost identical (and intentionally non-remarkable) sound palette of kicks/hats/claps, diva vocal clips, and house-y synth stabs. The magic lies in their combination, as all conventions of rhythmic interplay are cast to the wind. Though the BPM remains constant, elements are free to shift, skitter, slide, and mutate across each track’s length. The track showcased here is from an LP under his own name, that further extends these “automatic house” arrangements with Fell’s signature alien flourish.

 

Lee Gamble – “Emu”
One of the latest releases on Pan, Germany’s premiere experimental imprint, comes from Lee Gamble, a musician who found himself at a crossroads in the early 2000s. A refugee from the UK’s Jungle/DNB scene of the mid-90s, Lee took a hard left turn towards the academic, embracing procedural computer music with admirable rigor. This year, he attempted to bridge the gap between past life and present with “Diversions 1994-1996″, a collection of extended, mysterious mantras sourced primarily from his vast collection of hand-dubbed jungle mixtapes. Atmospheric interludes are stretched and devolved, and desolate breakbeats hover in and out of focus over all manner of found-sound detritus and smoldering tape hiss. At certain points, the tracks approach Robert Turman-level looping timelessness, and perfectly encapsulate the duality of isolationism and community that must have characterized a life in the 90s underground.

 

EVOL – “Rave Slime”
This last one’s a bit of a lark, though it probably wins the award for “Clarity of Vision”. It comes from Barcelona’s Roc Jiménez de Cisneros, aka EVOL, who makes what he describes as “Computer Music for Hooligans”. “Rave Slime” is brutal dissection of rave and hardcore techno’s most insipid indulgence: the “Hoover”. The “Hoover” sound, a synth patch made inescapable in many forms of harder dance music over the past 15 years (and somehow now crossing over into American pop music…), started as a preset called “What The?” on the Roland Alpha Juno synthesizer. This totally cheeky single puts the final nail in the Hoover’s coffin, with 2 extended workouts of nothing but. The result is intriguing, but borderline unlistenable, which is exactly what EVOL was shooting for.

October 25, 2012
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Rev You: Pye Corner Audio –
Sleep Games LP

Mysterious UK synth loner Pye Corner Audio steps up to the majors with “Sleep Games”, a new full length for the venerable Ghost Box. Pye Corner practices a familiar yet alien brand of a vintage sci-fi songcraft that dovetails nicely into Ghost Box’s “hauntalogical” agenda. The label represents a niche meta-genre whose heros include BBC Radiophonic Workshop darlings like Delia Derbyshire and Tod Dockstader, but whose true sonic genesis might lie in the early work of Boards of Canada. Pye Corner’s 3-volume “Black Mill Tapes” on Further Records were artfully composed highlights of last year’s tape-milieu, and this LP delivers more of that same dusty genius in a more taught, compelling package.

The album employs a plethora of satisfying touchstones from decades past. At its most effective, white-noise hats and ghostly claps shuffle along melodic and menacing soundtrack synthesizing of the deepest order. Warm, tape-saturated distortion adorns each track in varying degrees, adding layers of refracted wistfulness to a largely dark and menacing sound palette. There’s plenty of antique airlock tape hiss and vintage spring-sproing reverb for the real heads, while occasional found-soundscapes and plodding mystery ballads break up the shadowy street scenes.

The most fully realized tracks on the album blend the standard spectral faire of Ghost Box mainstays like Belbury Poly and The Focus Group with darker, minimal-wave martialism. There’s plenty of Giallo influence in these more hard-stepping outings, with rock-solid kicks bolted to a vacant dancefloor. Gone is the “Anglo-eccentric” bent that defines the Ghost Box Sound, exchanged here for a streamlined Detroit drive.

Ghost box has existed for close to 8 years, with a scant 17 full-length releases to its name. If one thing can be cited to the label’s credit, it’s their commitment to consistency and clarity of vision. The label is given a new lease on life with the signing of Pye Corner, an addition so perfect it’s hard to believe it isn’t yet another pseudonym of the label’s co-founders Jim Jupp and Julian House.

Despite the album’s vintage trappings, this collection feels definitively contemporary, citing the Italo/Horror revival (which has already flashed in certain pans, producing little memorable content), and even giving nods to Sandwell District-style side-chained darkness. In some ways a departure from the label’s typical library-music miniatures, this set plays best as a collection of uniquely inflected technoid experiments. If an artists exists to be referential, there’s something to be said for utter conviction, which Pye Corner Audio demonstrates here in spades.

Listen to a snippet from this mysterious unit’s latest live appearance below, and peep the entire LP at your convenience on Spotify.

October 15, 2012
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Rev You: Robert Hood
Motor: Nighttime World 3 LP

In the world of Techno, there is almost no one bigger than Robert Hood, having basically co-innovated the concept alongside fellow Detroit practitioners Juan Atkins and Jeff Mills at the dawn of the 90s. With his latest LP “Motor”, subtitled “Nighttime World 3″ (its previous 2 volumes having been released in 1996 and 2000 respectively), Hood continues in his long tradition of truly exemplary tech-house excursions, all thematically tied to his long-suffering homeland, Detroit. Billed as a “concept album”, “Motor” evokes just about every facet of the famed city’s history. From the industrial clank and smokey ribaldry of its Halcyon days, to the desolate night-scapes of its near-abandoned present, all charged with the cyclic, driving purity of the “automotive” impulse that forged its identity half a century ago.

The album is a dense, varied, and engrossing effort, built on a wholly unique yet purposefully referential sound-set, with a nuanced, off-the-cuff flair. This being a true “Album”, (and clocking in at nearly 80 minutes) Hood directs the tracks, and indeed each sound, cinematically, not just in dynamics, but with an overt sense of plot and pacing. The storytelling aspect is completed by the simple yet evokative track titles, which are undeniably apt.

Hood, as one of Techno’s innovators, is thankfully liberal in his approach to composition. These 12 lengthy workouts are through-composed in a way that is almost totally singular, with an emphasis on 4-on-the-floor bass hits being the only shared trait. On top of this stripped down framework, Hood brings layer after layer of morphing digital/acoustic sound, embracing the stereo field, and throwing all manner of sonic curveballs. Each track is inhabited by evolving sonic characters, whose through-lines are brought in and out of focus over the its length. There’s plenty of variety at play, as each track is shot full of post-apocalyptic ambience, industrial shrapnel, string stabs, and all manner of synthetic filigree, executed with a loose, improvisational verve.

A sense of melodic interplay is the real surprise element, as panning/morphing synth shards and throbbing bass registers share the stage with a mechanically soulful piano vamp, or tear-jerking string swells. Of course, there’s still a handful a few heads-down techno bangers in the mix for the purists.

To me, re-listenability is the hallmark of any great electronic release. This sprawling record boasts more than a handful of unusual grooves and settings which, consumed as a whole, perfectly compliment Hood’s obviously subjective and impassioned impression of his city. A mission statement, critique, and history lesson all in one. Robert Hood is a total legend, deserving of our attention for any one of a dozen reasons, but “Motor” should now be at the top of your list. In a perfect world, fully-formed releases like this should be expected of a veteran of Hood’s status, but how often are they actually delivered? This record works on a pleasantly surprising level, and could easily be a cross-over hit in months to come(see Homework, et al).

Fortunately for you, me, and everyone, the complete album is streaming on Soundcloud. ESSENTIAL!

October 1, 2012
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Unheard-Of: Inkey$ Vol. 2

The Globule is proud to present an obscure and idiosyncratic cultural artifact from a bygone golden age of synth music fandom.

Inkey$ was a relatively short-lived “cassette magazine” assembled and distributed in the United Kingdom through the 80s. An enthusiastic outlet for the far flung hearts of space that dotted the UK’s underground landscape, Inkey$ featured interviews, reviews, and previews of self-released synthetics in a myriad of spacey styles. This volume, the second issue from 1983, is a nearly 90 minute exploration of the boundaries of analog synthesis delivered with a profound sincerity and a dry, Anglo wit. Having digitized the ancient cassette myself, 2 brief disclaimers are in order: (1) In a classic hand-dubbed manuovour, the tracks on the first side cut off abruptly. (2) As each side nears its end, the audio slowly dissolves into an almost “bitcrushed” sound-cloud. Apologies in advance, but 30 years is an eternity to ferrous particles, just ask William Basinski. The warm, slightly corroded fidelity of the audio gives an appropriately vintage and almost “hauntological” patina to the proceedings. Lossless, this isn’t.

The centerpiece of the volume is a lengthy feature on Robert Schroeder, a Klaus Schulze disciple (and Innovative Communication signee) in the early stages of his long and varied career. Schroeder’s solid Berlin-school pieces pair up sumptuous pads with loping, delayed arpeggios, for some kraut-lineage black-light anthems. Plenty of layered, panning lines, and soundtrack-inspired key shifts sprinkled throughout to bring you back to earth. The tracks featured are an unreleased predecessor to his uniformly excellent “Harmonic Ascendent”, and slightly more chunky, at times cartoonish slices from his then-yet-to-be-released “Cygnus A”. The sounds are pitch-perfect reference points for the current crop of synth-sploitationists, with a studio musician’s flourish and an engineers precision. Betwixt the two is a fairly languid interview, as Robert recounts his Ars Electronica accolades and rock-band dalliances in his thick German accent. while the shop talk throughout is more for context than illumination, the lackluster deadpan of the host is quite amusing on its own.

The side continues with several brief offerings from 3 other European explorers.
Rudiger Lorenz is up first, with a track off his wonkily titled “Wonderflower”. Long-release bell-like progressions peak with analog saturation over phasing arpeggios. An exquisitely wistful ambience. The kind of perfectly somber wow and flutter that inspired early OPN.

Daniel Arfib is up next, with a cut off his “Musique Numerique”, a #Rare, private-press LP that’s since gotten the Creel Pone treatment. Pure noise wash, with primitive FM-Bass swells. Crunchy!

Next, some resonant, groovy fare from IC recording artist Klaus Kruger, featuring the venerable Manuel Gottsching. Swinging string synth stabs, live-drumming bop, and funky upbeat guitar punctuations.

The uber-nerdy ESSP (“Electronic Synthesizer Sound Project”?) picks up side 2, a showcase of the UK’s most subterranean knob-twisters. The first track (“Experiment 144″) is a low-fi tour de force consisting of lyrical, jaunty tracks, produced entirely on the EDP Wasp synthesizer, Spider sequencer, echo unit, and “dr. rhythm” (Roland DR55 to these ears). Reedy, hissing riffs squeak out over Mort Garson-lineage foxtrots. Occasional foghorn samples (recorded Dorset, England) punctuate throughout, for a truly goofed-out opus of bent squelch.

Aside from this cassette documentation, “Experiment 144″ and its creators have left almost no discernible trail. A true lost gem of bedroom blip-funk. You heard it here first (and last). Finders Keepers, get on this!

Next up: Mark Shreeve with his epic “Assassin”, a bizarre versioning of John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13″ theme, released some 7 years beforehand. Though the track retains much of the paranoid boom-bip of the original, you can’t help but wonder how he got away with releasing this as an original composition. Nonetheless, as the lesser known of the two (I guess it’s 3/3, if you count the Bomb The Bass re-make)the soaring solos and snappy drum programming make this a synth-groove opus worthy of any Carpenter fanboy’s attention.


Carl Matthews – Iridescence Cassette

“Iridescence” is next from Carl Matthews, a true underground entity, with a catalog of almost exclusively self-released cassettes. Birdsong and plaintive 4 note motif give this a floating, melancholy feel. Echoes of Froese’s Epsilon in Malaysian Pale, with a more “staring out the window on a rainy day” loner vibe. The five minute glimpse of the 13 minute original is a moving miniature.

Ron Berry’s “Sea of clouds” is an epic, high-altitude cruiser. Thick pads, swelling banks of white noise and ratcheting oscillations. A menacing, simplistic baseline underpins mysterious lfo’d tone-float and shadowy solo lines.

Last but not least is Mark Jenkins with “Time’s Winged Chariot”. An active audio field filled with shuffling percussive thump, virtuistic looping sequences and some superb vintage vocoder verbiage. A bouncy bass-line moves in, as the leads get more animated, morphing into zipping, panning glissandos. A high-energy missive.

Research indicates Mr. Jenkins to be a synth nerd of EPIC proportions (Holy Hell, look at that setup. He gives Klaus Schulze a run for his money, approaching Dave Wilson levels of analog obsession). This track is available nowhere but on a CDr of Mark’s self-released “Analog Archives”. A quick Discogs search reveals all sorts of biographical nuggets. Apparently a former member of White Noise? Later entries in his catalog include a collab with Damo Suzuki? Definitely a prime candidate for future digging.

The “Inkey$ News” outro includes updates on synth releases by the likes of Klaus Schulze, Kitaro, Nash the Slash, and a barrage of new, bizarre-sounding releases from micro labels like Mirage Tapes, Syntape, and “Hawkfriend”(?) by artists like “Sea of Wires” and “Dr. Phil”(?!)

A truly immersive trip through a forgotten nook of synthetic sound. So glad I could re-release this dusty statement back into the world at large. (BTW, if this is already floating around what.cd, please DON’T tell me.)

Grab this piece of history HERE

September 24, 2012
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Rev You: Rene Hell / Oneohtrix
Point Never Split LP

This week’s selection is a “why didn’t it happen sooner” pair-up between two princes of the ‘net/cassette audio landscape, on Vermont’s uniformly excellent New New Age Tapes. Boston synth stalwart Dan Lopatin goes deep and disjointed on the next chapter of his Oneohtrix Point Never travelogue, and Portland/LA drifter Rene Hell (Jeff Witscher) lets his inner Satie shine on a series of digitally augmented piano-and-string miniatures.

OPN’s side is cerebral extension of the sample-based psychotropics that defined his last album “Replica”. Rapid-fire verbal stutter is the common thread through the side, while Lopatin’s signature dark, warm tone-float grounds the pieces with a sense of sincere melodicism. He’s embracing the glitch, while eschewing the coldness of a pure laptop vacuum. Harsh walls of industrial laser welding occasionally punctuate the dreamy proceedings, adding a sense of tense unease. A lonely, romantic, flickering landscape with dread lurking just below the surface.

Lopatin’s compositional strategy is a striking “live mixing” of chopped sources with more static beds, bringing to mind one of my personal favorites, circuit shredder/sampling pioneer Nicholas Collins (who’s definitely getting a proper Globule homage in the near future). The listener struggles to grab hold of stray phonemes in the warping word-salad, which in their arrangement evoke Peanuts-style adult/child conversations, testimony playback, and dream language. His hyper-looped editing style has an almost literary bent, occasionally verging on the Concrète poetry of late-sixties academics like Kenneth Gaburo or Luciano Berio.

The layer of searing test tones and “classical” aleatoric cpu-blurt are what differentiates this side from Lopatin’s more serene, measured efforts, and while its still a compelling counterpoint, it’s just slightly inarticulate. There is a definite ‘dissolving into data’ component that’s quite alluring, as words and tones are atomized, serialized, and dispassionately re-assembled. An excellent “next step” in OPN’s impressive catalog.


Oneohtrix Point Never


Rene Hell

Rene Hell’s side shows a similar forward-momentum, ditching almost entirely the lush, pulsing darkness of his earlier work in favor of more “advanced” digitalisms. The suite of short pieces begins with some wistful piano, with a somber, legato lilt, accompanied in time by all manner of stereo-traversing, band-passed zappage, and vintage mainframe bleep-bloop. Over the course of the side, the listener is treated to a catalog of ‘classical’ moves, with somber, romantic overtones.

A two-note ostinato on synth and piano blooms into almost ‘emotronica’(sorry!) urgency, with a virtuistic edge. Passionate strings of unknown origin swell and linger, in full-on Godspeed! cinematics. “Moonlight Sonata”-lineage plodding relaxes in sunny room ambience. All the while, digital effluvia prance and charge across the stereo field.

In their brightest moments, these digital/classical hybris are wistful, yet energetic experiments in contrast. In the duller spots, the juxtaposition of acoustic and electronic sound seems forced and dispassionate. It’s a dizzying and slightly schizophrenic listen on the whole, permiated by an almost subliminal sense of longing and fantasy. A promising attempt, for sure, as Witscher pulls himself out of the basement, and vies for a seat in the academy.

Dig an excerpt from OPN’s side below, and get hip to the new digital underground.
(And thanks, of course to Noise Park for the hilariously spot-on profile pics. I just couldn’t help myself.)