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January 31, 2006

Between the lines: IEDs and IOUs

Not to go all Jane on you all, but a passage from an article in today's NYT, "A New Kind of Care in a New Era of Casualties", about the challenges of rehabilitating soldiers who are, thanks to advances in medical technology, surviving wounds of historically unprecedented serverity (perhaps "thanks" and "surviving" deserve scare quotes there), leapt out at me this morning:

"These soldiers were kept alive," said Dr. Steven G. Scott, the Tampa center's director. "Now it's up to us to try and give them some meaningful life."

A "meaningful life" — precisely what, I would guess, many of them were searching for when they entered the armed forces, given that it's precisely what the civilian sector denied them, from failing public education to sub-living wages to discrimination in terms of race, class, gender, and perhaps even geography. (One of my favorite stats from the war is that the unemployment in Private Jessica Lynch's home county was somewhere around 16%.) No, not perhaps: there's a reason New Orleans washed away that doesn't have anything to do with acts of God.

I don't mean to speak universally: obviously there are many who enlist for their own ideals and conscious motivations, not out of any sense of desperation (and who knows, when paid housing and pensions and education and, let's not forget, combat bonus pay, are the motivators, perhaps even for the poor the military doesn't seem like a flailing grab at the brass ring but rather simply a sound employment option). But for many, I think, Dr. Scott's statement inscribes an eerie timeline beginning not with the artillery round or the explosive charge set off by cell phone, but rather an entire lifetime in which individuals have essentially been warehoused for someone else's capital gain. Read the quote again, this time thinking about what lies unsaid, unsayable, in the space between the doctor's two sentences.

"These soldiers were kept alive," said Dr. Steven G. Scott, the Tampa center's director. "Now it's up to us to try and give them some meaningful life."

January 27, 2006

Womb with a view

More hot blog axxxion! Midnight Mike steps up to the Tupperware party circuit with 12 A.M. Maternal, a new mpfree blog that's going deep into elliptical orbits. Featured so far are Bohannon, Vice Versa, Belgium's General Listening, "infamous and mysterious organist "George Montalba," and the Lez Dantz orchestra.

Mike's mission statement pretty much lays it all out:

"I intend to post recordings of some of my favorite rare records here. I will not be posting music by new bands. I will write very little. As an attempt at somehow maintaining vinyl's tradition of frustrating exclusivity I will post the mp3's using www.yousendit.com. This service will only allow a limited number of downloads for a 1 week period. If I receive polite and encouraging comments I might consider some re-issues. The images and adverts have no relation to the mp3's."

The clock is ticking...

January 26, 2006

Tape me

New entry on my personal blogometer: Tape, run by one Mr Soft (and apparently featuring contribs Richard Carnage and Puffin Jack, though their entries seem about as frequent as mine over at House Is a Feeling (sorry, Jess!)), and affiliated with the Bristol party of the same name.

Tape reps all the usual suspects whom we love — Cadenza, Border Community, Andre Kraml, Ewan Pearson, Kompakt, Sender, Mobilee, Trapez etc et al — but he's also out digging for and sending forth more obscure or non-genre stuff, like Todd Terje, Freak 'n Chic, Serge Santiago, and whatnot, often with free MP3s to go with, and seriously whippersmart writing. (Best yet, Tape's not afraid to call a dud a dud — consider it a kind of tough-love approach, exhorting beloved acts to quit laurel-resting and get back to the business of making us rave.)

With the blogosphere becoming increasingly PR-susceptible*, a blog that's not too shy to cast doubt upon Lindstrom's output, tell Headman and Matt Safer to "sort your fucking shit out" and ask DFA and Get Physical to live up to their standards is pretty refreshing indeed.

*Excerpt from an email I received yesterday: "My name is Gina and I work in NYC with addVice Online. We are sister company (sic) of Vice Magazine that handles music marketing and I am in charge of the online end of it. We have a couple of projects that I think you be interested in (sic) based on the current content of your blog. [...] I would love to send you [Run the Road 2] (either digital or hardcopy) and get you to maybe do a review, post news of the release or set up a give a ways (sic), ect. (sic)."

January 25, 2006

Drowning in a sea of love

The first 62 seconds of Apparat's remix of Nathan Fake's "Charlie's House" — give or take a few uncountable milliseconds spent exhaling — are enough to send me to my knees, arms thrown up like Willem Defoe in Platoon. Possibly the most perfect minute of music I've heard yet this year. Viva electremo!

January 24, 2006

From the back of the room


Brief update from HQ: holidays, moving, and that trip to Germany — not to mention no internet access, aside from a neighbor's fluctuating wi-fi, and no gas (thus hot water) until today — have made regular posting a bit difficult. (Best for you; no hot water engenders personal hygiene habits that may well fool the olfactory filters on the best-designed web browsers.) But the studio is installed, the Ikea assembled, the terrace green, and one lonely Technics has a new twin and a playmate named Allen & Heath to keep them company. So hopefully productivity will soon be like nougat, on the up and up.

Quick list of current listening:
Markus Guenter, Lovely Society (Ware): astonishingly deep (sorry, there's no other way around it) merger of sleepytime house and backfat for the floor, equally informed by Herbert and Dettinger, with Isolée and Moodymann offering advice from the wings. Judging from this, Roman Flügel's bizarre drum-machine-and-vibraphone album with Christopher Dell, and some aquamarine Repeat Orchestra tracks coming out from Real Soon, in 2006 leftfield house and techno are going to be taking it low and scuffy, with a weird half-genuflection to soul.

Mobilee Records: I keep thinking of them as a "minimal" label, but every time I play one of their records out, or hear it from the dancefloor, I'm tempted to say they're one of the heaviest labels out there right now, all "Argy" flex and Wighnomy stutter and Bpitch bite. Top of the heap is labelhead Anja Schneider & Sebo K's Side Leaps EP; both sides are absolutely storming. (A recent remix 12", which I haven't heard aside from clips on Wordandsound's site, features mixes from Magda and M.i.a.) Pan-Pot's Obscentiy EP (otherwise known as "that 'she needs to get laid' track") features some great DBX-meets-Wruhme moments. These guys have almost as much reverb as Sleep Archive, and that's saying something. Along similar lines, I'm also caning Liebe Detai lately — more extra-quality hyperkinetic, would-be minimal madness, with just enough hooks but never too many.

Ricardo Villalobos, Achso (Cadenza): supposedly just a double twelve-inch, but if there were more than four cuts here they'd call it an LP. Gone is the euphoric house of "808 the Bass Queen" and gone the almost-pop of "Easy Lee" and "Dexter," but mourn not, because they haven't vanished, just been sewn into the infinitely shirred and folded fabric (is this guy the Issey Miyake of techno, or what) of his most oblique techno abstractions. Over at ILM Dominique Leone said something about these tracks shooting off like tree branches, and she's right: his rhythms seem to carry within them the seeds mapped to the exact proportions of their future projections, that whole organic/fractal/Fibonacci thing that's such a lousily tempting metaphor for music hacks, but actually makes some kind of sense here. Every track contains multitudes upon multitudes of ideas; some take center stage for minutes on end, and some play out their bit parts moving mountains of byte-sized data in the background, tireless as their what-me-sleep? programmer — but never exhausting in and of themselves, possibly because they escape individual attention almost entirely, only surfacing as moving parts in a vast complexity. This is biology music, and maybe it's because of this that I think this is Ricardo at his most musical. It's everything The Au Harem wanted to be but wasn't; everything Alcachofa was pointing at in its densest, most liquid (thanks for that Ronan, I think) tracks. Achso is humid like a bog, which might explain the vastness of orchids within it. Can I blame my florid prose on this record? I will. Call this record whatever you want, progressive doodlery, ketaminimal, the afterparty after the fall, acid free jazz, I don't care. All and none of it is true, and if you hear Autechre and a whole lot of other things in there (some have said Talk Talk; I'd say that Shriekback song "Coelecanth"), you're probably right, but like me what's probably flipping you out is that the vast majority of it is something you couldn't put your finger on in a million years, which is exactly the way you want it to be. All that, and it still manages to be groovy as fuck.

Grainy Shots, Grainy Sound

I'd entirely forgotten, but a small gallery of my photographs are included in Grain of Sound's autumn edition of their e-journal Sonic Scope Quarterly (click on the latter link to download it as a zip file, which will blossom into a fabulous and refreshingly Flash-free pdf file). And hey, that's even my picture of Richie Hawtin and fans on the cover.

The issue features photography and design from a slew of talented people, many working in multiple media, a few whose names I knew and most not.
I particularly liked Maja Ratjke's politically-informed photographs — and wry commentary — and Marc Berhens' photographs of bullet holes in different countries. It's interesting to see people you think of as "musicians" not just engaging in other media, but using them to interact with the places they visit when they're not sound-checking or sleeping off jetlag.

(My gallery features photographs of La Chica Paula, Luciano, Thomas Melchior, Ricardo Villalobos, Mambotur, the Wighnomy Brothers, Hawtin, and Barcelona's DJ Omar, shot in live performance in various locations in five countries. And they don't look half bad.)

January 11, 2006

Speaking in Köln (and Berlin and Jena)


Today's the last day of a whirlwind trip through Germany, filming for Speaking in Code, a documentary made by Squar3 Productions' Amy Lee Grill, Scott Sans, and David Day, on which I'm serving as co-producer, not-so-key grip, and minor character. For this portion of the shoot we've been hanging with the Kompakt folks, raving at Studio 672, visiting the Bpitch Control offices, asking Robert Henke to explain Ableton Live, learning how records are made at Dubplates and Mastering, dropping money at Hardwax, and last but not at all least, getting all goggle-eyed at the beauty of Jena and the generosity of the good folks at Freude Am Tanzen/Musik Krause (the Wighnomy Brothers, Heemann and Kaden, the Rave Strikes Back crew, and more). Here are a few outtakes from the visit. This is liveblogging, folks: the last picture was taken about 10 minutes ago.

Reinhard Voigt and Kompakt promogoddess Jeannine illustrating the German sublime.

Perlon's Cassy Britton behind the counter at Hardwax.

The birth of a master disk at D+M.

The crew sets up the lights.

Sascha Funke readies his answers.

Modeselektor get political in their studio.

Language lessons at the train station snackbar.

Wonder if that's where the Wighnomy Bros' Monkey Maffia got his.

Monkey Maffia learns to trust the camera.

Matias Kaden checks out the new arrivals at Fat Plastics.

January 06, 2006

Those cvazy Germans

I'm glad to see DJ Koze getting some love in Jody Rosen's Slate column on the overlooked albums of 2005, but I have to take issue with the generalization, "the [German] sound has often been a parody of Teutonic rigidity and reserve: all glitches and stiff beats, dance music for post-structural theorists, not dancers." I realize Rosen is only working with about 200 words here, so there's not much room to back up the statement, but really? Where's the evidence of this? (Ok, aside from most of the Mille Plateaux catalogue.) Anyone who has been immersed in German electronica of the past 10 or 15 years, I think, would argue exactly the opposite: German dance music is often some of the most hedonistic, ecstatic, pleasure-centric stuff in all of contemporary house and techno. (Yes, Vahid, I know, I know: have at me.)

Obviously we could argue back and forth all night about specific examples, but the real point is: why the strawman? It seems like it's impossible to read about electronic music in the mainstream media without submitting it to the strawman critique: "Most electronic music is [cold/unfunky/unhuman, etc.] but this album is [warm/funky/human, etc.]." It's not just that the strategy is lazy and makes for predictable reading — it makes the critic's judgments seem suspect, since it values generalization over any deeper, more nuanced engagement with the form. (I'm not saying Rosen hasn't made the engagement, just that the rhetorical strategy undermines it.)

Koze's album is indeed brilliant, and stands head and shoulders above many electronic albums this year, German or otherwise. But the reason why is a complex question of songwriting, sound design, and that nameless, elusive funk. To say as much doesn't require reducing the rest of the German house and techno canon to a Sprockets sketch.