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September 30, 2004

Head in Hands


Greetings from Berlin. More specifically, from the hallway outside my hotel room at the Innside Residence -- the only place my wi-fi reception actually works. Ah, the joys of the digital age, the splendor of convenience. My hosts have kindly put me up at a flashy, 80s "design hotel" (overdesigned would be more like it), where I managed to break one of the round glass side tables within five minutes of entering the room, and here I am, sitting on the carpeted floor of the hallway outside. I may be a jetrosexual, but damn if it ain't giving me rugburn.

Actual updates - on last night's Kompakt/Musik Krause party, tonight's Narod Niki shindig, and tomorrow's Oceanclub blowout - are forthcoming. Plus a note or two on DJing in Valparaiso, and photos galore. (This one is of Egg's Guillaume, at a bar in Berlin, btw.) But for the time being, almost 48 hours of transit (Santiago-São Paulo-New York-Brussels-Berlin) have damn near worn me out.

Instead, go here to read me on Mouse on Mars.

September 24, 2004

Notes from a Santiago Dance Floor

Venue: La Feria, an intimate (200 person capacity?) space with Barcelona-inspired UFO lamps hanging at irregular heights, generous sound, and a tidy balcony. Oh, and the walls are padded, though despite the enthusiastic crowd, no one seemed to be bouncing off of them. This is no madhouse – though they're definitely mad for techno here.

Kelis's "Milkshake" – in this case, in the form of the St. Plomb bootleg mix, "There's Lead in My Shake" – still kills it, even here. Shouts, whistles, screams erupted with the first ripples of recognition. (Note to the producers: why oh why did you leave this record with only eight or so bars of intro before Kelis' voice comes in? It's almost impossible to play this track and preserve the surprise factor!)

What they call "minimal" elicits a strong response: Mike Shannon, U-Freq, the new John Tejada track on Frankie. (Don't know anything about the label, but this cut is one of the year's best.) And local pride is strong: Sieg Über Die Sonne goes over like gangbusters, and the day after, people are still singing the refrain from Luciano's Tim Wright remix. Really!

Chilean clubbers are a sibilant bunch, quick to hook two fingers in their mouth and blow. A skilled selector knows how to determine whether this is a good or a bad thing – a few nights ago I saw a DJ (we'll charitably assume he was stoned) attempting to cue up a record with the crossfader centered and the volume on both channels all the way up. Amazingly, he didn't notice his gaffe, and the crowd made a noise like a windstorm in a whistle factory. He grinned a confused little grin, assuming the jeers were cheers.

I had my fair share of whistles last night, and for the most part I think they were the good kind. (I'm not the tightest mixer in the world, but I've got good records on my side, and I'll take quality over quantization any day.) The only episode I'm uncertain about was after mixing out of Sieg Über Die Sonne's "Hot" into the Freeform Reform version of Markus Nikolai's "Bushes," a big sassy Latin track that I picked up in NYC and hadn't played out yet. Bad move. My friend swears that the crowd was into it, but to me it sounded like the soundtrack to a movie called Lost Plot, and it took me forever to get my flow back.

Flow, by the way, is overrated. I don't mean that the DJ should play willy-nilly all over the spectrum, but listening to 30 minutes of impeccably mixed minimal techno is dull as a fluff-covered needle. Give me right angles – or at least 45-degree tangents – any day. And while the opening DJ, who later came back to tag-team the last hour with me at the behest of the promoter (was I that erratic?), played solid tech-house in a neat arc, I'm convinced that my punk-ass approach – crashing loud into loud, Sender-style – worked just fine. Why else were they screaming for "Rocker," "Rocket Kontrol," and that take-no-prisoners remake of "Take Me Out?" Fists were pumping, and not just mine.

How to turn a climax into its antithesis, through no fault of your own: play Le Dust Sucker's "Mandate My Ass" at 3:56. Begin mixing in Kiki's "The End of the World" at 3:59. Let the clock tick 4am, and watch the soundman come up and swiftly slide the fader down to silence. Flip the power on the deck and raise the fader so that the restless crowd, wondering what the fuck is up, at least gets to hear the decelerating "woob woob woob" as the beats slow to a dead crawl; gaze in wonder at the uniformed cops – complete in weird, military-style caps – stake out positions around the dance floor and not so subtly suggest that the crowd beat a hasty retreat. Exeunt. Curtain.

September 22, 2004

I am your speaker

Welcome, good readers of Salon, and thanks to Thomas Bartlett for the link. We've had our differences, but at least we agree on Björk and März; must be something about umlauts.

This is my blog; supposedly it is about music, but thoughts are leaky and the form is porous, so don your Wellies before rooting about in the archives. Download a mix from the sidebar, goggle at a photograph, and please peruse the list of fine writers to the right. Sometimes I'm moon-eyed, sometimes star-struck -- in fact, that's Ricardo Villalobos' hand framed in miniature between the two towers. Don't forget to wear your earplugs, and enjoy.




September 21, 2004

I'm PopKomming

Almost forgot - there's news afoot. I'll be gracing (or is that disgracing?) the decks at two upcoming parties in Berlin. Come for the headliners, but stick around and say howdy.

Thursday, September 30
Club Transmediale
Narod Niki featuring Ricardo Villalobos + ???
The Egg
The Mole
...and playing records in the lounge, DJs Alain Mongeau, Eric Mattson, and Philip Sherburne

Friday, October 1
10 Jahre Oceanclub at Club Maria
Miss Kittin
Thomas Fehlmann
The Modernist
Ellen Allien
Chica and the Folder
Gudrun Gut
Philip Sherburne + Sharif Zawideh
...more info...

(And no, I don't know what I'm doing in this esteemed company either. Anyone got a lead on some cheap anti-anxiety medication?)

Short cuts

The blogosphere keeps on kicking – courtesy crack new entrant Yancey Strickler, daunting listmaker Andy Kellman, and HTML returnee Woebot, just to name a few – and hence it's easy to feel like you're falling behind in the perpetual lane-shifting. Of course, this is no competition, but when you check your page hits and they seem about as optimistic as the US job numbers, it spurs you to dig in a little deeper. Or that's the theory. Thing is, life – work, friends, travel, sleep – keeps putting itself between my keyboard and me.

When confronted with the essential hobby-ness of the blog form, how does one find an original language – or, more properly, a unique voice that transcends the incessant interior blah-blah in the mind? Too much blogspeak – too much of my blogspeak – simply mimics the style-less unspoken monologue of consciousness (hence the overwhelming meta-ness of so much blogspeak, such as the words you're reading at the moment). The blogvoice, like the emailvoice, seems to require reconciling itself to a reduced language. Not necessarily a language of reduction, but a language that accepts the blogosphere's instantaneity and Odwalla-short shelf life; a language of reduced expectations – without compromising thought itself. But so many agents make their individual claims upon this thoughtspace: modernism's imperative to make it new; public discourse's admonitions to speak "naturally;" an accelerating world's demand for brevity. I'd settle for thumbnail sketches, but I've always bitten my nails to the quick.

And so we'll gloss. With a nod to the maestro Simon, certain recordings for which my enthusiasm bears sharing.

Mocky, Are & Be (Four)
After the brilliant single, "How Will I Know You," featuring Jamie Lidell, this isn't quite the masterpiece I was waiting for, but it's still a damn fine album. Mocky's vocals are charmingly rough, from his ragged delivery – sliding all over the beats as though they were banana peels and his rhythmic feet were shod in bowling shoes – to his smoky timbre. Highlights include the International Pony-like g-funk schaffel of "Take me Away" (complete with harp!) and the D'Angelo-spirited (kinda sorta) "Crack a Smile." Potential improvements: an expanded range of vocalists, a collaboration with Harco Pront.

Kelpe, Sea Inside Body (DC Recordings)
I've bigged this up in more than a few reviews, but it bears repeating: this is the best record that Boards of Canada and Plaid did not make this year. As much as I hate having to make reference to such totems, the similarity is undeniable – still, Kelpe makes the sound his own, inserting himself into the canon of progtronica in one fell swoop.

März, Wir Sind Hier (Karaoke Kalk)
Blogged about it a few weeks ago but I'll say it again. One of my favorite records of the season. Listened to it (along with its predecessor, Love Streams on a long, pitch-black drive up the coast of Chile, which turned out to be the perfect setting for singing along to lyrics like "If we go out we will jump in the river/ If we go out we will jump in the sea/ If we return we will live here forever/ If we return we will live by the sea." On paper it doesn't look profound, but at 150 km/h, singing any harmony that comes into your head above the whine of the motor, it's infinity compressed into a four-bar figure. There's even banjo-house ("Bieber & Enten (Plattler)"), glitch Americana ("Tropige Trauben"), and cotton candy Kinks ("The Pop Song"). Anyone want to supply a translation to the lyrics to "Oktober Im Park"?

Bruno Pronsato, Silver Cities (Orac)
Seattle's Steven Ford takes Vladislav Delay-style deconstructionist microhouse to an extreme, at times subtracting everything but the merest pulse and slathering musique concrete groans and atonal piano tinkles over the top. At times, looking for the downbeat is a needle-in-a-haystack proposition, but he's not afraid to kick til it (gently) hurts. A fine companion to the Hand on the Plow tracks.

Headset, Spacesettings (Plug Research)
The best thing PR has come up with in a while, with Dntel and Mannequin Lung's Allen Avenessian on production, additional tweaking from Daedelus, John Tejada, and Thomas Felhmann, and vocals from Beans, Subtitle, Shadow Huntaz and more. Minimalistic hip-hop with a digitalist bent, the occasional touch of Farben-style clickyclicky, and lots of errant noises to keep the short attention span rubbernecking. I'm surprised, frankly, that this hasn't gotten more press – but then, it's not hottt enough for overground cred and neither murky nor ol'skool enough for the backpackers, I suppose.

Misc., Crunch Time (Sender)
Hoo boy is that the right title for this album, which beats Alter Ego-style techno like a fisherman flailing a dead squid against the rocks, until everything is tender and oozing analog goo. Next to Jake Fairley's Touch Not the Cat, the rockingest techno record this year.

Gravenhurst, Flashlight Seasons and Black Holes in the Sand (Warp)
I'm not 100% decided on these; the Nick Drakeisms (and Elliot Smithisms, to a lesser degree) are occasionally a bit much, and the singer's voice, while lovely, is occasionally cloying, and his lyrics, likewise, a bit fey. But the songwriting is superb, the major-minor transitions always throw a prickle up the spine, and the harmonies are consistently captivating, little harmonic cuffs that lock you up and hold you spellbound. Another perfect selection for high beams and reflective stripes extending to the black horizon. They just need to check their affect a bit, and they'll make a superb album.

Swayzak, Loops from the Bergerie (K7)
I didn't think I cared for this initially, but the hooks on tunes like "Keep It Coming" and "Another Way" have barbs that dig in, hold on, and keep tugging you back. Feels more like a collection of singles than an album proper, if that means anything at all (and perhaps it shouldn't), but I'm sure someone like Michael Mayer could do something fierce with almost any of these tracks in a DJ set. Oddly, I'm not particularly feeling the schaffel track ("Speakeasy"), which feels a bit unfocused, sort of like a hodgepodge of current schaffel styles, from the squeaky flourish (trace back to Areal) to the overdriven guitar-like sounds (Fairley or T.Raumschmiere) to the vocals, which just kinda stew about in the midrange.

And because brevity giveth and brevity taketh away, that's a wrap for today, kids, so go forth and celebrate the arrival of spring or autumn, depending upon your particular relationship with the Equator. Looking back upon the above I realize that I've left you with a rather middle-of-the-road list of things, much subtle sentiment and little pop ecstatic, and nary a single amongst the bunch. There's a reason for the latter: perambulating once again, I'm far from vinyl (or at least the means to play it) and downloading on this connection is like snorting manjar through a straw. Stay tuned for a discussion of new faves including Ada's Blondie (Areal) and some discussion of Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats plus other funk carioca gems and pebbles. And, coming soon, no really it is, a hazy wrapup of SonarSound São Paulo. That's all our time for today.

September 20, 2004

Pattern recognition


I’m just beginning to dig into Björk’s Médulla, but the most striking thing about it so far – aside, of course, from its moments of thrill and thrall, even on iPod headphones – is the way that it uses the human voice, digitally processed, to explore the nature of musical representation. You can’t throw a rock in a record store without hitting an album that concerns itself – whether self-consciously or otherwise – with technological reproduction, but Björk’s album takes a counterintuitive approach to technology in order to play with musical codes. Médulla dazzles us with futuresonics and then pulls the curtain away to reveal that the Wizard was not a god or a machine, but just a dude (or a woman) with a microphone all along.

The fuss about this being an “all-vocal” album is misplaced, I think. What’s interesting is what she does with the voices – and again, not just musically, but as representational ciphers. On Médulla, Björk’s approach to the human voice is doubly imitative: human beatboxes and processed voices imitate drum machines imitating real drums.

I suppose, though it does not bother me, that these nuances will be lost on many listeners – just as, without the widespread press push proclaiming the album’s vocal emphasis, many listeners would not have realized that the drums were in fact voices. Such is the finesse with which she’s pulled off the project. (On the ever-more irrelevant IDM list, meanwhile, some readers expressed consternation that Björk is getting credit for crafting an all-vocal album while Kracfive had done the same thing before. Yes, and so did Iz and Diz on their “Mouth” track (way too housey for an IDM dogmatist to care about, of course), and so does Jamie Lidell in his live sets, and skipping back over many, many, many antecedents, so did Joan LaBarbara in Voice Is the Original Instrument, which Björk namechecked in Alex Ross’ New Yorker profile, and so did Todd Rundgren, as Marc Weingarten points out; so in sum: get over it.)

In crafting her rhythms, Björk draws on two parallel strains of experimental beatmaking – hip-hop’s beatboxing (which itself brings together hip-hop’s emphasis on cutup rhythms, which would be unthinkable outside the realm of mechanical/digital reproduction, with hip-hop’s vocal roots) and techno’s reliance on programmed rhythms that could never in a million years be played by real, live musicians. Only, in this case – aided, of course, by an unknown amount of programming – they have been, at least after a fact, especially on the breakbeat-imitating “Triumph of a Heart,” or the feathered-riffed “Oceania.”

My friend Anthony Huberman, a curator at Sculpture Center, noted a few weeks ago that the crucial question for any curator is always “Why now?” which I think applies equally to Björk’s maneuver. Why, now, choose to make an “all-vocal” album? Especially since the sound of the record, barring the liturgical-sounding “pure” choral pieces like “Vökuró,” does not diverge radically from the sounds and textures she conjured on Vespertine.

The answer, of course, lies in Björk’s concept of the relationship between humans and machines -- a relationship that, despite our enslavement to email and cell phones, is thwarted again and again by conservative artcrit and rockwrite and po-faced, "won't-somebody-think-of-the-children" humanism of the Michiko Kakutani school. In that regard, this is Björk's most cyborg record yet, tearing down the divide between “human” and “machine” music (not that it hasn’t been dismantled before, but these things take time and repeated demolition crews). Like Herbert, she reminds us that in the age of samplers, any sound can be harnessed – so why not the voice? She undoes rock’s fake Luddite conservatism by allowing machines to speak for themselves – the singing here may be divine, but it would fall flat without the “artifice” of samplers and software. She tweaks electronic music’s prejudice for hackneyed futurisms by putting groaning rave stabs in the mouths of her singers. All these false divides and distinctions soften like gum and dissolve like sugar in her singers’ mouths. And while it may sound like a pedantic point, it’s one that few other musicians have grasped so clearly or made with such eloquent force.

September 15, 2004

Such great heights pt 2




São Paulo - scrape, scrape.

September 14, 2004


SonarSound São Paulo was indeed legal. Words soon; for now, images.




Pan Sonic


Backstage with Ricardo Villalobos


Villalobos, flipping


Thomas Melchior rocking out backstage to Ricardo at 7 a.m.


Angus of Liars


Aaron of Liars


Angus again


Junior Boys with a junior boy


Junior Boys' Matt and James at Mercure Hotel, after the show and before the after

September 09, 2004

Oktober Im Park

Since this seems to be the season of dire warnings, I think it is important to tell you that your fall (or your spring, you readers in the Southern Hemisphere) will be woefully incomplete if you do not swiftly procure yourself a copy of März's Wir Sind Hier, available October 25 from Karaoke Kalk.

März – the duo of Ekkehard Ehlers and Albrecht Kunze – make sample pop (or at least I think it’s largely sampled – the opening track on their album Love Streams is based principally around Nick Drake’s “From the Morning”) that’s flush with acoustic instruments and glowing, filigreed drones, and overlaid with someone’s – Kunze’s? – husky, whisperish vocals. It’s one of those rare albums that almost completely outstrips my ability to say anything intelligent about it, perhaps because its sense of pathos – a simultaneous rush of melancholy and promise – is so overwhelming. I suppose, given the acoustic instrumentation, many critics will rush to connect it to the “folktronica” of Four Tet et al, but forget all that. Forget everything when you listen to this album; just indulge in your most Romantic, sublime, teenagerish reveries of unrequited love and eternal life, and remember when an autumn wind or spring breeze filled you with a kind of joyful sadness you still haven’t found a name for. Seasons pass and unabashed adolescent emotions dull, but this is a record you could live in – bright-eyed, bristle-necked, and agog – forever.

(For a taster, you may download "The River" and "Blaue Fäden" from the group’s own site.)

September 07, 2004

Such great heights




I just ripped my favorite shirt. It’s a black button-down, nicely tailored, which it should be, since it was obscenely expensive and I’m a sucker like that. Being a sucker, I was too lazy to unbutton it after scooping it up from the tangle of the suitcase’s innards and tried to wriggle into it like a bony eel exploring a very narrow paper bag. Bad move. Much as I’d like to find some kind of greater significance in it, there is none – I was lazy and now I’m going to have to drop lord knows how many hours and bones on a comparably nondescript black button-down shirt to wear every other day for the next, like, three years. Travel is full of these little disappointments.

But then again it all balances out, doesn’t it? (And I’m not talking about the silver sweatshirt or unnecessary pair of sneakers I added to my overloaded suitcase, nor the Began Cekic disco 12”s I picked up at Other Music.) New York, despite the presence of too many Republicans and cops – cops on corners, on the subway, in the skies (in both helicopters and, inexplicably, a Fuji-branded blimp that also bore the insignia of the NYPD, leading some protesters to glance down at their point-and-shoots, wondering if the film they shot was somehow going to find its barcoded way from the one-hour processing places into the national security archives, with their name attached – paranoid, sure, but when people are getting scooped up in nets and corralled on the toxic ground of the downtown holding pens, who knows where paranoia becomes simple caution?) – and despite the inescapability of RNC speeches on the airwaves, broadcast into every taxi, every bodega, every CNN terminal in the airport, New York was paradise.

It would be boring to enumerate all the reasons why, but somewhere in the Venn diagram that included perfect September weather; old and new friends and unexpected mutual friends with ties to both; a mindblowing dancehall show at Hammerstein Ballroom; a drunken, late-night DJ set at Subtonic; and Brooklyn rooftop beer-drinking and Sunday Times reading, the cross-hatching drew a perfect picture of life as I want and need it right now.

And now, another plane, another language, another city; $1 Xingus, angular graffiti resembling Inuit, and a phrasebook I have to read backwards through a language that’s not my own. Translation, conjugation, a reverse-engineered crash-landing. And, somewhere out there, perhaps, another black shirt to make me feel at home.