never think that the new ambient discs that arrive in my CD player are going to do anything different. This new compilation of old material proved me wrong, as usual, and what’s more, it reminded me that innovations have gone on in the past that I haven’t caught up with yet.
Isn’t that the most reassuring thing about being alive these days? Seriously. You could spend the next ten years listening to nothing but soul music from the 1960’s and 70’s. Then in 2014 there’d be a whole decade worth of new content built up for you to listen to. The content factories are always producing new variations and mutations specifically for your consumption. A delicious thought for meditation.
This compilation is primarily composed of re-released music from the Raster-Noton label, distributed and compiled under license to SanFran’s Asphodel imprint. The first track, signal’s “waves”, dates back to 1998. But I’ve never heard a variation quite like this one. It sounds like a chamber orchestra of computers tuning up and calibrating their sound cards and sample rates, its brevity suggesting the compact accuracy of Anton Webern. Sines, distortions, UHF traces, and wobbling subfrequencies combine to describe a tiny, extremely clean universe that exists for only thirty-nine seconds. This track has a parallel in signal’s second contribution “lines”, a more geometric but equally succinct piece that employs subtle reverb before removing all the sounds and leaving us with the hiss of an unwatched television.
The overall character of this compilation is farther from Takashi Wada and Shuttle358, and closer to Mille Plateaux’s clinical simplicity. Tracks like Modul’s “shift II” and Boghossian’s “memoire cyclique” perfectly imply their creators’ command of sound design and apposite semantic snobbery. (I wonder if e.e.cummings ever thought his writings would be co-opted by minimalist Europeans?) The disc could be faulted for placing timbre above melodic development, but of course, this is an artistic choice to make. That criticism aside, the repetitive nature of the chord structures does have an attractive meditative quality.
Closing the disc are a pair of tracks by artists introduced to me by that famous professor emeritus at Bovine University, Michael Heumann. Noto turns in one of his best tracks yet, “MM”, pushing his trademark modulated drones to the background and his digital glitchbreaks to the fore. Basinski gets the last (instrumental) word with his “River II”, a piece that reminds us that computer music existed before computers did.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve docked this disc a couple of points in the bourgeois Stylus hierarchy because I have the feeling that these songs feel fresher to me since I missed them the first time around. But all critical issues aside, I’d be happy serving a lonely summer keeping the forest-fire watch on Desolation Peak with nothing but this on the hi-fi.
Reviewed by: Francis Henville
Reviewed on: 2004-07-28