love the photo on the cover of Jacen Solo’s debut full-length, Virgo. It depicts the seedy underbelly of a large building, complete with wires in the air and on the ground, air ducts, tubes, big metal boxes, and other big things that make a lot of noise. For most people, these noises—made by air conditioners, generators, automobiles, and other machines—are irritants, the residue and consequence of living in a technological world. But not everyone finds these noises annoying, just as not everyone finds the visual sight of wires, processors, air ducts, and generators irritating. There’s a beauty in these machines and their sounds, and for a hundred years (ever since F.T. Marinetti’s first Futurist manifesto), artists and philosophers have sought not to obliterate but celebrate machines and their rigidly repetitive sounds.
That’s electronic music, really: the celebration of repetition and artificiality. Sure, most electronic artists will try to tell you that their music transcends such mundane things as rigid, computer-controlled beats and processed loops. Heck, most music software now focuses almost entirely on transforming basic 4/4 beats into symphonies that alter and transform at the granular level. But, at its heart, electronic music hasn’t strayed from Kraftwerk’s central tenets: we live in a machine world.
Solo’s cover suggests that his music is directly connected to machines and to the history behind machines in a very direct way. And, in a way, the music backs this up: this is a textbook example of electronic music, incorporating all the bells and whistles that have characterized most electronic music for the past thirty years: funky beats, bouncy melodies, warbling pads, and, above all, a Teutonic insistence upon absolute order. Words like “Teutonic” and “absolute order” seem negative, as they suggest a rigid, robotic drive towards a singular (and, in musical terms, usually boring) goal. Rigidity has its place, however—and, when done correctly, rigidity and absolute control can produce some amazing results in music. I’m thinking of both ambient works by William Basinski and Richard Chartier as well as dance music by Frank Bretschneider, all of which use repetition to create fascinating art.
Solo’s music isn’t as interesting as these other works, but its failure is not due to the repetitive beats that structure each and every track. In fact, the music is technically fine. The problem is that it is formulaic; it uses the same basic song pattern that has been used for countless electronic works. It’s boring. Too bad, too, since I really do like that cover.
Reviewed by: Michael Heumann
Reviewed on: 2005-06-20