My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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Monthly Archives: May 1999

Miles Davis Twice Remixed

Bill Laswell gets it right the second time around. Panthalassa — The Remixes (Columbia) release compiles remixes of Panthalassa, Laswell’s 1998 album-length reconstruction of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’ early electric-era recordings, such as Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way. (You may want to read that sentence twice.) It is also very much the album many listeners had expected from Laswell’s initial foray into Davis’ most controversial period; it’s a beat-driven affair, rich in club atmosphere, spare to a fault. On the most spare entry, Doc Scott forms an extended homage from a drum track and snippets of “Rated X” — among the highlights are bass-end piano figures, a rapid-fire guitar lick, and a rain-like smattering of applause. King Britt and Philip Charles do up “Shhh,” DJ Cam milks “In a Silent Way,” Jamie Myerson also attempts “Rated X” (which, paired with Scott’s take, makes this collection an excellent intro to the freeform nature of remixing), and Laswell himself revisits “On the Corner.” A bonus examination of “Black Satin/On the Corner” by DJ Krush, who focuses on Davis’ electronically mutated horn, may not be reason enough to add a turntable to your stereo, but if you already have one, then definitely opt for the vinyl: Krush’s entry is not on the CD.

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Play Boy

Moby talks about the technology behind — and the racial politics beside the point of — his landmark pop album, Play.

A young man embraced new audio technology and made a name for himself. He did this, in large part, by using the new technology to provide a new generation of listeners with an introduction to early 20th-century black rural blues and gospel songs.

That man’s name was Alan Lomax. Continuing the work of his folklorist father, John Lomax, Alan helped build the Library of Congress’ vast archive of American music by traveling around the country in the middle of the 20th century, recording all manner of indigenous song.

Those field recordings, and others like them, served as the raw source material that, in 1999, helped another young man make his name. That man is Moby and his album Play, the first he recorded after leaving a major record label for a new independent label, quickly became ubiquitous; it landed in the soundtracks to movies and television advertisements, in malls and dorm rooms. Play helped wake a new audience up to the glories of gospel and blues.

It also helped introduce a broad, mass audience to electronic music, to the creative opportunities afforded by sampling, to the magic inherent in the computer’s ability to yoke disparate elements — in this case, deeply soulful vocals and a variety of contemporary pop settings — into an entertaining whole.

In April 1999, just prior to the album’s release, Moby talked about the work that went into Play‘s production, about the racial issues he was treading upon, and about how his desire to make emotional albums overshadowed any interest on his part in technology for technology’s sake. That conversation, lightly edited, appears below.

Marc Weidenbaum: Your musical tastes are broad. Would you describe yourself as an omnivore?

Moby: Not really an omnivore, but it’s just that I find it really difficult to find a particular type of music that I don’t like. I had a fairly eclectic musical upbringing. I am 33 years old. I started playing music when I was eight, and I studied classical guitar at one time, I studied music theory, played jazz for a while, played bass in a reggae band, played in a new-wave band and a punk-rock band, an industrial band, was a hip-hop DJ for a little while. At this point, I have to accept that I like pretty much everything. … There’s a lot of opera I don’t like. The bombastic stuff loses me, but when it’s really sweet and vulnerable I adore it.

Weidenbaum: Anything in particular that you’re listening to or exploring these days?

Moby: Not really. I’m enjoying a lot of these old field recordings, although my approach is fairly eclectic. I’m not a great music consumer in some ways. I kind of enjoy appreciating music on a more passive level, listening to the radio, having friends recommend things. Rather than knock myself out looking for records, I stumble upon them.

Weidenbaum: Is there a type of music that took you a long time to get into?

Moby: R&b. Not old r&b, but contemporary. R. Kelly, Whitney Houston — I love it now. I remember being 17 and being into punk and new wave and thinking, this r&b is awful. I still have friends who feel the same way: an R. Kelly song will come on and they’ll scream and try and turn it off. I don’t love it on a kitschy level or an ironic level. I really love it. My favorite song last year was that Brian McKnight ballad — “Do I ever cross your mind?” — I don’t know the title, but in New York it was on every five minutes. My favorite song this week is that Britney Spears thing — it’s a sexy little slice of dance music. It’s funny with her how overt the pedophilia is. My goodness, they really know what they’re doing.

Weidenbaum: Do you feel a certain kinship with Alan Lomax and the other people who made the original field recordings on which Play is based?

Moby: It seems like it’s coming from the same place, in that we’re white guys from New York who are really into African-American singing and music.

Weidenbaum: Another comparison is that those original field recordings were very much a technological event, as is your record, because they were examples of people taking unique advantage of a new technology, portable recorders. You, similarly, are exploiting the new technology of sampling and sequencing and so forth.

Moby: That’s a really good point. We do tend to take recording equipment for granted, but back then it was kind of a novelty. The nice thing about sampling technology is that it enables the musician or the composer to compose songs and pieces of music out of disparate musical elements.

Weidenbaum: Do you make a connection between the fact that you have blues and gospel samples, as well as samples of contemporary black music, namely rap, on the record?

Moby: One is from “Love Rap” by Spoonie G, and the chorus is just my friend, Nikki D, who’s an MC from Brooklyn. Even using the old field recordings, I wasn’t thinking about them in a broad cultural context. I was just using them because I loved the sonic quality and emotional quality they had.

Weidenbaum: One of my favorite aspects of your method of sampling is how the little rasps in a singer’s voice, when repeated in loops, become percussive elements.

Moby: Yeah, that wasn’t intentional but it was a happy accident that I really like.

Weidenbaum: What other happy accidents can you point to in the making of the record?

Moby: Another way in which sampling technology lends itself to this musical tradition is how repetitive the vocal compositions are in their original form. And with sampling and looping, it echoes that as well. Other happy accidents? Discovering there is this wealth of a cappella field recordings and old gospel vocals.

Weidenbaum: On the song “Natural Blues,” the chorus repeats how the singer has “troubles.” Do you feel you know her troubles?

Moby: I certainly can’t lay claim to the specific suffering of an African-American in the early 20th century, but there is, you know, from my perspective, there is a universality to human emotion. Some emotions are the product of specific circumstances, but the emotions themselves tend to be universal.

Weidenbaum: It took several listens before I realized that she was singing about her “troubles with God.”

Moby: It’s “troubles but God”: nobody know her troubles but God. But if that resonates with you more, that’s fine.

Weidenbaum: It’s inevitable that when a white musician bases work substantially on black music, the discussion will turn to race. Are you prepared for that analysis and potential criticism? Was it a concern?

Moby: It wasn’t when I was making the record, but then I finished it and a friend said, You might get in trouble for this, people might really have a problem with it. But my feeling is, I was just approaching it from a naive, genuine perspective. I loved the vocals, I loved the quality of them. I hope I wasn’t being exploitational, or exploitative, whatever the correct adjective would be — adverb, rather. But it is quite possible I did something wrong. I proceeded from a genuine, naive place. Maybe what I have done is wrong. And if someone can make a compelling argument as to why what I’ve done is wrong, I hope I am open-minded enough to listen to it. The only thing I would say in my defense is that I was quite genuine and naive in my approach and I am not being so presumptuous to lay claim to any aspect of the African-American experience. And I’ve used black vocals in my music ever since I started making music. And it just seems strange that people would take issue with me for sampling old blues vocals, but not old disco vocals.

Weidenbaum: The record arrives at a time when a number of prominent electronic-music hits, notably songs by Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers, have been based around black voices.

Moby: The best white music of the 20th century is stuff that’s been directly influenced by black music.

Weidenbaum: And vice versa.

Moby: But so far, everyone I’ve spoken to, everyone who’s heard the record, no one’s been offended. A couple people have said, Boy, someone might be offended. An interesting thing happened: a friend of mine works at a magazine, and he was playing the record and the office manager, who is black, asked what it was. He said it’s Moby and she asked, Is he a white guy or a black guy. And he said, Well he’s white, and she said, How interesting, because it’s the first record by a white guy she said she’d liked in 10 years. If I was being an apologist, I’d say that field recordings and early 20th-century blues is very marginal music, in a sense. It’s not mass market. Apart from academics, very few people buy these records: Atlantic Records’s Sound of the South box set, I don’t think that was a huge seller for them. In a sense, someone like me or some other electronic musicians revisiting this music and incorporating it into our music, we’re perhaps exposing it to people who otherwise would never be exposed to it.

Weidenbaum: Like how the remix record of music by composer Steve Reich attempted to expose a new generation to his work.

Moby: That’s hopefully what will happen with this record. I love going back and listening to these old Alan Lomax recordings, just the way they are, just a cappella. They’re wonderful.

Weidenbaum: Can we talk about one track in more detail, perhaps “Run On”? I’m unclear the extent to which the overlapping of the vocals is part of the original composition and to what extent it’s something done in the studio.

Moby: Most of that is part of the original composition.

Weidenbaum: Can you talk a bit about how you came across this particular bit of music and built on it?

Moby: I bought this Columbia Records compilation, called There Will Be No Sweeter Sound, which is a collection of the Okeh label’s gospel stuff, and the nice thing about these old gospel records is that they’re all a cappella. “Run On” is a traditional old gospel song — I’ve got a version of Elvis Presley singing it — and I sampled it and sort of chopped it up a little bit so it would fit within the framework that I was writing for it, but it was just a straightforward case of sampling the vocals and playing with them just a little bit so they would fit into the song.

Weidenbaum: The instrumentation is all by you?

Moby: Everything except for the vocals is me.

Weidenbaum: The electric guitar solo as well?

Moby: I play all the instruments. Every record I’ve ever made is just me writing the songs, playing the instruments, doing the production, the engineering.

Weidenbaum: There are tracks on Play where the music reverberates with the sounds of the vocals, and there are tracks where the sounds are noticeably more contemporary than the vocals. Were those two approaches you were consciously employing?

Moby: Everything is intentional to the extent that it is all coming from one person, but the only plan is to make a record that I love. It’s not a concept record.

Weidenbaum: Considering the nature of the words of the album’s gospel and blues elements, is this a religious record?

Moby: That’s my albatross. I’m not really a Christian. I love Christ and I love the teachings of Christ, but I don’t consider myself a Christian by any conventional definition of what a Christian is. And the songs on this record, obviously, they reflect who I am as an emotional person, as an intellectual person, as a spiritual person, but they don’t reflect my adherence to any dogma or spiritual belief. My religious beliefs are not specifically expressed on this record at all. I mean, who I am is reflected, but I am not a born-again Christian, I am not a Southern Baptist, I’m not anything. I’m just a guy who makes records.

Weidenbaum: This is your first record for the label V2?

Moby: That is correct.

Weidenbaum: Can you talk, from your perspective, having recorded previously for a major label, about what’s going on in the record industry?

Moby: Over the last few years, all of the major labels have been consolidated, and bought up by parent entertainment companies, and these big parents companies in order to acquire these record companies have gone into debt, and so they have to justify their purchases to their shareholders. And in order to do that, they have to keep showing huge profits every quarter. So, that desperate corporate drive to show huge quarterly profits has been passed on to the record companies. And traditionally, when music becomes really successful, a lot of times it’s taking something obscure and fringe and somehow, by some quirk of fate, it becomes mainstream. But that can take a long time. In the case of Red Hot Chili Peppers it took 10 years. In the case of Prince it took a long time. In the case of Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, on and on. In the current climate, record companies’ memories last three months. And if an act isn’t generating huge profits within a quarter, it’ll get dropped or ignored. And record companies are, also, being run by radio-promotion people. I have no big problem with radio, but the only criteria that a record company now uses to evaluate its artists is, is it getting played on the radio? And if something is not getting played on the radio, the record company doesn’t want to know about it.

Weidenbaum: What brought you to V2 after you got dropped from Elektra.

Moby: I didn’t get dropped from Elektra. I bought myself out of my contract. They wanted me to stay very desperately. I was, like, one of their credible artists, so they could say, we’re a bad major label — not bad, but, you know, they could point to myself and Stereolab and Bjork and say, Look, we’re still fairly credible. I bought myself out of my deal because I wasn’t very happy there. I went to V2 because I don’t want to be on a major label. Major labels are great if you’re a generic alternative rock band, or a 17-year-old pop star, or a female singer-songwriter, or a hip-hop or r&b act. Or a country act. If you fit neatly into one of those genres, then you should be on a major label. If you’re anything outside of one of those genres, if you’re in any way idiosyncratic, you should not be on a major label. Major labels don’t have a clue as to how to promote idiosyncratic music.

Weidenbaum: What do you think of the V2 roster of artists thus far?

Moby: I think it’s pretty wonderful.

Weidenbaum: One of your labelmates is Underworld, another electronic act. Have you spent much time with the recent Underworld record?

Moby: Um, I like Underworld. I think this record is good; it’s very good. I like the Mercury Rev record more, to be honest with you. But V2, they say all the right things, they say there are other ways to promote records outside of radio. You don’t hear that from any major label. V2 is an indie, so they have a lot of freedom, and the people there are very music-oriented. And major labels make a big deal saying they’re music-oriented, but they’re radio-oriented, and that’s it. That’s all they care about.

Weidenbaum: What’s it like being with a label that’s still building its personality? Do you feel you have a kind of “say” now that artists who join the label in a few years may not have?

Moby: I don’t know. I have been with Mute Records for Europe for the last seven years and Mute is also a wonderful indie label, so I’m a fortunate spoiled artist. As far as I’m concerned, I’m with the two best record companies in the world. Both labels have very small rosters.

Weidenbaum: Do you have a formal contract with Mute?

Moby: Yeah, very formal.

Weidenbaum: I ask because I spent some time interviewing Depeche Mode, who are also on Mute, and they have a very unusual relationship with the label.

Moby: They were one of the first bands signed to Mute, and for many years they didn’t have a contract. We have a formal contract, but my relation with Mute is very friendly; it’s not like most artists and most labels.

Weidenbaum: Why did you not simply extend your relationship with Mute in America?

Moby: Mute America is a really good label, but America is such a big country — as much as I hate major labels, I love major-label distribution. Every time I criticize a major label, I am criticizing the label, not the distribution. In order to be successful in the United States, you need to have access to major-label distribution. Mute Records is distributed by ADA, which is great for what they do, but it’s an indie distributor. So my criticisms of major labels is strictly their promotion and A&R, etc.

Weidenbaum: Last time I saw you play was at a rave, or a “massive,” in Oakland in 1996, around Halloween. Is that an audience that has continued to develop for you, or are you playing more regular concerts?

Moby: That was more of a big rave sort of tour. Most of the time I go on tour by myself, I’m playing clubs and theaters. I came back to S.F. three months after that and played the Fillmore. So that’s more in line with the sort of place I would normally play.

Weidenbaum: Are you interested in exploring the multimedia aspect of electronic music?

Moby: No. My only interest is in making records that affect me on an emotional level. Multimedia is nice but I’m not a technophile. And I’d love to have beautiful visuals, but my interest in technology is it’s a bunch of tools and I can use it in so far as it serves my ability to make records that people like. For myself, I don’t aspire to be futuristic or experimental or innovative; I just aspire to make emotional records that people will fall in love with.

Weidenbaum: One follow-up “tool” question. If you could invent an instrument, is there one you’d want to create?

Moby: Uh, no, I’m pretty happy with what’s out there. I use my piano, guitars, bass guitar, some samplers, and some synths and a drum machine, sequencer — really basic music-studio set up, that strange combination of acoustic instruments and electronic instruments.

Weidenbaum: Do you play Alan Lomax yourself, bringing recording technology out onto the street?

Moby: Never. I work in the studio, that’s about it.

Weidenbaum: How do you compose on the road, when you’re away from the technology?

Moby: I have a head for pop music. I have tons of pop music songs at home I’ve never done anything with. Walking around the street, I’ll start singing something, and I’ll realize it’s not a real song, it’s just something I’ve made up. I’ll come home and sing into a microphone, just record the idea.

Weidenbaum: Does making the music by yourself create a unique challenge when you tour, when you have to recreate the music with a group of musicians?

Moby: The people I play with live are such good musicians, I play it for them once and they’ve got it. It’s really easy. They’re all so talented. I’ll send them a tape of something, and by the time of our first rehearsal they know the song inside and out.

Weidenbaum: Play, as you’ve explained, is almost entirely a solo affair, with the exception of the sampled vocals. The only people who assisted you are Mario Caldato Jr. —

Moby: He and I mixed the first song together, “Honey,” and this song “Natural Blues” was mixed by this guy Dean Honer in Sheffield.

Weidenbaum: When you listen to those two songs, do you hear them as different from the rest of the album?

Moby: No, not at all. From my perspective they’re not.

Weidenbaum: What records are near your stereo right now?

Moby: The Jay-Z album. Stan Getz Jazz Samba. First Bad Brains album, first four Roxy Music records. My own album. What else is there? One of the Ryko-Rounder Alan Lomax recordings. That’s about it.

Weidenbaum: A couple of questions about your work process. You use a PC or Macintosh?

Moby: Macintosh.

Weidenbaum: Do you ever use the CD drive in your computer to listen to music?

Moby: No.

Weidenbaum: A new generation of young listeners is coming of age listening to music on computers, downloading it, manipulating it. Does this excite you at all?

Moby: I am really curious to see what sort of music gets created out of it. If music becomes the domain of hobbyists, will it become really wonderful music or just lots of mediocre music? If you look at the history of music, the best music tends to come from people who devote their lives to it. Same thing with art, same thing with literature. Not a lot of great culture comes from dilettantes. Marcel Duchamp was a great artist because he devoted himself to making art.

Weidenbaum: Any interest in the business side of things?

Moby: I do not want to run a record label. I have no interest. I want to make music. I wouldn’t mind starting a school, I wouldn’t mind working with people. But my job is: I’m a musician.

Weidenbaum: Who are your favorite people you’ve collaborated with?

Moby: I’ve done more remixes than collaborations. That’s like collaborating with people even though I’m the only person there. Strangely enough, I was able to work for or with almost all of my heroes when I was young: David Bowie, Brian Eno, John Lydon, New Order, Depeche Mode, etc.

Weidenbaum: Is there someone you’d like to record with but haven’t?

Moby: I have this idea, it would be nice to make a punk-rock record with Prince, or like a really dark earthy record — there’s this Talking Heads song, “Memories Can’t Wait,” stuff like that. With Prince. Put aside the glossy funk stuff and get dirty.

Weidenbaum: It’s a shame how unnecessary the remixes he did of “1999” were.

Moby: Why gild the lily? I was out drinking with friends recently and that song came on and I was struck — the thing about song lyrics, that’s so wonderful, if you ever read them they read so poorly. That’s why I never put lyrics in my records. I don’t think lyrics work as poetry, but lyrics as lyrics are wonderful. The lyrics to “1999” are so simple but so effective.

Weidenbaum: What about the lyrics on Play?

Moby: I think the lyrics are wonderful, if I do say so myself. They’re very meaningful to me. I think other people may listen to them and think they’re post-adolescent, grad-student crap. But they resonate a lot with me.

Weidenbaum: Thanks so much for your time. I appreciate your being open to discussing the whole racial thing. When I first started listening to Play I was flashing back to the debate that followed the release of Paul Simon’s Graceland.

Moby: Racism is awful, homophobia is awful. Misogyny, sexism. Any prejudice is awful. Exploitation is bad. But a lot of times people label something not because it’s bad but because they want to simplify it. I think the situation with Paul Simon was complicated, and I don’t think it could be judged so simply as we tried to judge it. I’ve been wrong so many times in my life, at this point I try to refrain from judgment.

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Electronica for Dunderheads

[Note: this essay served as the introduction to a supplement about electronic music, published by Pulse! magazine in 1999. In print it was intended to be designed to look like a parody of a “… for Dummies” book.]

Letter from the Publisher

Greetings. Welcome back, perhaps. The publishers of the Dunderheads series would like to take this opportunity to apologize to students of our previous editions of Electronica for Dunderheads, which became outdated more quickly than we had intended. This 32nd edition is highly unusual, in that it is the third edition to be released in 1999. We introduced Electronica for Dunderheads (“From Aphex Twin to Bjork”) in the now halcyon year of 1996. The circumstances were themselves unusual, in retrospect; the subject of electronic music only came to our attention after the focus groups we gather regularly at our home office in Livingston, N.J., reacted quite favorably to a Muzak arrangement of a Portishead song then playing regularly in our elevator.

Since 1996, our research staff has struggled valiantly to keep apace of the trends. Why only a year ago, it would have been unthinkable to publish a guide to popular electronic music without mentioning the band Crystal Method, whereas today it is not only feasible, it’s almost necessary — well, except to make a point such a this: Change is the only constant in today’s accelerated world of popular recordings.

Nor, apparently, is history free from the waves of trends that have come to comprise the ever-shifting canon — to paraphrase our crack team of interns. They tell us, for example, that today a mention of septuagenarian French composer Pierre Henri is de rigueur, whereas previous editions had nary a mention of his experiments. (Our interns also tell us that if we describe this 32nd edition as a “remix” of the 31st edition, that will be meaningful to you.)

In any case, welcome to the latest, authoritative (that is, for the foreseeable future — deadlines, paradigmatic culture shifts, the sudden Stateside viability of Eurodisco, and other acts of God notwithstanding) edition of Electronica for Dunderheads. And we hope that if you find the experience enjoyable you will try some of our related, and less volatile, volumes: Musique concrete for Dunderheads, Field Recordings for Dunderheads, Prog-rock for Dunderheads and RealAudio for Dunderheads. Coming in Fall 1999: MP3 for Dunderheads.

Chapter 1: Building a Collection

We assume you have picked up this guide to contemporary electronic popular music because you are intrigued and, being aware of your dunderhead status — the first step toward enlightenment — you wish to be more informed.

Perhaps your ears were enchanted by the percolating soundtrack to some current car commercial, or perhaps the repetitive rhythms forced upon you by a younger sibling or neighbor have proven unusually seductive and, rather than call Mom or the cops, you’ve decided to dance with the enemy.

The first step in building a CD collection is recognizing the area of music that interests you. Electronica represents a broad spectrum. Genres aren’t thoroughly helpful, but they do provide a starting point. It’s also impossible to do them justice in this constrained space, but let’s give it a try. Ambient is considerably slower — it’s almost beat-less — than trip-hop, which is slower than jungle (though some cuts by the musician Tricky are closer to hardcore rock than to the slo-mo sounds generally associated with trip-hop), which is always slower than gabber.

Of course, genre distinctions mean more than variations in speed (measured in BPM, beats per minute). Trip-hop is simply a kind of languorous pop music that learned (in general from hip-hop, but also from lots of other types of experimental and even academic music) that you don’t need real instruments to make music. Trip-hop tends to set voices atop tracks that are made from samples. Jungle, to cut to the chase, is thought to be instrumental (that is, vocal-free) music that borrowed from house music (dance music played at warehouse parties, thought to have been derived from disco) but rid itself of ornamentation. Drum’n’bass is a more experimental wing of jungle. Techno is a faster and, at times, less anthemic analog to house; if house celebrates the people dancing, techno celebrates the machines that people become while dancing. Conscientiously vapid, gabber is, in essence, techno at 78 rpm.

Suggested Listening: for ambient, Aphex Twin‘s Selected Ambient Works II (Warp); for trip-hop, Tricky‘s Maxinquaye (4th & Bway); for drum’n’bass, Photek‘s Form and Function (Science/Astralwerks); for techno, Juan AtkinsWax Trax! MasterMix Volume 1 (Wax Trax!/TVT).

Suggested Reading: Matthew Collin and John Godfrey’s Altered State: The Story of Ecstacy and Acid House (Serpent’s Tail), a British book recently published in the U.S. in an expanded second edition (see, everyone has trouble keeping up); Simon Reynolds’ Generation Ecstacy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture (Little, Brown).

Chapter 2: Art & Commerce

If DJs always seem to be grimacing behind their turntables, like highly mindful scientists, do remember that academic music composition is one of the pillars of electronic music, another being experimental media art.

For every wistful, poppy mingling of beats and soothing atmospherics (think Bjork, think Massive Attack, think the Orb), there’s a late-’60s MFA thesis on tape music, or analog synthesis, or the physics of sound gathering dust in a university archive. The makers of electronic pop music today are a disparate crew — former skatepunks, indie-rockers, and new-age mystics account for a solid percentage — but one thing they tend to have in common is “big ears.” Stalk one of them home from a rave and you’ll undoubtedly find closets full of records, tapes and CDs — their own archives.

Meat Beat Manifesto and Squarepusher, for example, vociferously credit Miles Davis’ early electric recordings for the sounds mined on their recent albums. To go back a generation, Brian Eno is similarly beholden to Erik Satie, whose dog-eared “Gymnopedes” are among the earliest examples of ambient composition. Though electronica is, if you believe the hype, the music of the future, its sample-based nature keeps it assuredly rooted in — and rifling through — the past.

Suggested Listening: Brian Eno‘s Ambient 4: On Land (Editions Eg.), a lovely early-’80s work, oblivious to the pop culture soon to foment in its quiet wake; Steve Reich‘s Reich Remixed (Nonesuch), on which nine musician-producers rework the minimalist composer’s oeuvre; Autechre‘s Tri-repetae++ (Warp), young Jedi masters of experimental dissonance and static, but you can kinda dance to it.

Suggested Reading: Paul GriffithsA Guide to Electronic Music (Thames & Hudson) is a concise study of the academic foundation of electronic pop music; the 1979 book is tellingly out of print — though, one imagines, not for long.

Chapter 3: The Future

Well, we’re admittedly a bit cloudy on this one, but certainly the future will bring a 33rd edition of Electronica for Dunderheads, with new genre terminology, an expanded discography and bibliography, and, inevitably, another apologetic note from the publishers. In the meanwhile, happy record-hunting.

Suggested Listening: MatmosQuasi-objects (Vague Terrain), conceptual art projects disguised as experimental pop music; Otomo Yoshihide‘s Filament 1 (Extreme), trenchant snippets of extended, razor-sharp tones, and you’ll thank him for it; Madonna‘s Grammy Award-winning Ray of Light (Maverick), produced by electronica legend William Orbit and destined to be aped by other pop stars looking to remain current.

Suggested Reading: hyperreal.org. If we’ve learned anything in the time we’ve been producing the Dunderheads series, it’s that print is ephemeral. This web site is one of the key loci of electronic music on the Internet.

Originally published, in slightly different form, in Pulse! magazine, May 1999.

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