R. Luke DuBois
djunct Assistant Professor of Columbia University's Computer Music Centre, producer, video artist, founding member of the Freight Elevator Quartet, and holder of a doctorate in music composition: R. Luke DuBois is not someone unacquainted with the intersection of theory and art. There's some heavy-duty thinking and digital technique behind the three pieces on Timelapse, and probably the most concise way of getting it across is to let the man himself speak:
I thought it might be interesting to try to find a way to compress sonic time, not simply by speeding it up, but by using statistical averaging of the sonic information in the sound in a way that preserves what I feel to be many of the cues we need to appreciate sonic detail... This process generates an overall impression of the sound fed into it, blurring and fusing its features into singular, sustained, and very rich tones.DuBois uses this “time-lapse phonography” to puree and distill music down into something more compact and strange. The main course here, the four-part “Billboard,” presents every single song to top the Billboard charts from August 1958 until the end of December 1999. Each track is given a second for the number of weeks that it topped the charts.
It is, perversely enough, both the most and least successful piece on Timelapse. The CD comes equipped with multimedia; pop it into your computer and you can watch the title of each song displayed as they play. With context, it becomes a marvelous playground for subjective impression; the sounds are all broadly the same but knowing what each represents leads the mind to imagine or create connections and narratives. After a series of shorter tones depicting the pop landscape of 1964, the Beatles arrive with the triumphant, sustained ringing tone of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” sounding like the trumpets before a medieval army, and that arrival feels both deliberate and fitting. For years their singles stick out, bright and loud, but by “Come Together” the Beatles are something dark and rumbling.
As you listen you start to imagine you can make out snatches of identifiable melody or mood in blurs; other bits of essentially random or meaningless sound become strangely apt. A series of songs in the '70s blend together in rising and falling, but always moderate tones until ABBA's “Dancing Queen” smashes through like a blazing comet; Whitney Houston's “I Will Always Love You” lasts until you wish it would go away; Edwin Starr's “War” rings like an alarm bell. There are unexpected couplings—it's bizarre how well “96 Tears” melds with the Monkees' “Last Train to Clarksville”—as well as oddly damp squibs. “Good Vibrations, ” for example, makes little to no impact in terms of either sound or duration.
Some of the tones sound vaguely choral, some like ghosts trying to harmonize; others like far off ringing rotary phones, dental drills—but nothing too unpleasant or harsh, as you'd expect from the hit parade. They change too quickly for the piece to ever really enrapture; “Billboard” as a whole sounds a bit like easy listening music, if you live in Twin Peaks.
The other, shorter two works included on Timelapse stand-alone with more ease. “Clavier” is 96 sections of Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier atomized down into a taut 4:50. You can just barely make out that it's a piano being played, no, hundreds of pianos packed so tightly the song should hang immobile but instead whirls in the air, darting agilely from overdriven to barely there. “...Time Goes By (Casablanca)” pulls atmosphere from the classic film into a “sonic landscape” suitably nocturnal and forbidding for all of its ten minutes. At times it echoes imaginary soundtrack-makers A Small Good Thing's cyber-noir The Pink and Purple World of Dishonesty; of the three works, it's the least conceptual and most evocative—full of wind blown down dark alleys and drinking to forget.
Timelapse is admirably thought-provoking and rewarding on a conceptual level; unfortunately it's not as compelling without the visual/theoretical component, although much of the album works as interesting, experimental ambient music. Multimedia on a CD is often like DVD extras, ignored and ignorable by many, but in this case it’s crucial. As a result “Billboard” in particular is more interesting as a thought experiment or teaching tool than as music. But even with that caveat, never has digesting so much in so little time been so much fun.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2006-06-27