olitronics is exactly what its name implies: a combination of political discourse and electronic music. It seeks to tease out the interplay between art and politics, containing musical contributions by various artists that infuse their sound with some form of political awareness. The liner text, which is extensive, consists of three essays respectively by Martin Busser, Thomas Venker, and Philip Sherburne along with written commentaries by the music contributors. Though some contributors like Terre Thaemlitz see politics and art as inseparable, most on this comp view the fusion of the two with skepticism. Artists like Mouse on Mars draw abstract connections between politics and art and use jargon-heavy text to justify their position. Then there is Matthew Herbert aka Radioboy who links his political message with his music in a creative and direct fashion.
The opening track by Schneider TM remixing Pulseprogramming forms “Suck or Run”, a refreshing surprise that starts off as a minimal click-no piece later adding vocals, acoustic guitars and even a harmonica. The song is one of the better ones here, because while it is a folk protest song utilizing electronics, it never resorts to novelty in its message or music to get its point across. Scanner’s “Fold Twice” and “Ignition Segments” by Mouse on Mars are abstract works that tend to be noisy and abrasive. It is difficult to distinguish whether these are works of merit or mediocrity, which is why they are with mentioning. Herbert’s work titled “Quaker Oats” has a powerful premise behind the track, but the track itself (made entirely from the sound of Quaker Oats!) is unspectacular. The ‘tune’ comes off as a messy albeit humorous track. Terre Thaemlitz’s “Inelegant Implementations” is actually an excerpt from Means from an End, a work previously released in 1998. Terre’s strength is to instill an emotional hook no matter how abstract his music gets. “Inelegant Implementations” are pre-recorded jazz tunes that seem to be passed through various filters until raw noise emerges where only vestiges of the original material are left. It is almost as if Theamlitz’s Meow studio was being submerged in water during the making of the track. The remainder tracks are passable but not memorable enough to merit mention.
In the liner notes, essayist Thomas Venker claims that “the pleasure of listening is over as soon as a musician makes himself known as sexist, or, in some sort, as politically not worth bothering about.” More apparent balderdash has yet to be written, unless Venker is speaking strictly subjectively. If this were so, then the likes of Jim Morrison, Frank Sinatra and N.W.A. would not be worth bothering about. Whether music deals with politics or not, or whether conventional source material is used for sampling or not is besides the point. A good tune is still a good tune and a good song (contrary to the views of liner essayist Thomas Venker) remains a good song regardless of the artist’s personal merit or accountability. Similarly, an artist harboring the ‘correct’ political views will not necessarily enhance the quality of her or his music.
Reviewed by: I. Khider
Reviewed on: 2004-01-13