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Bip Player

By Marc Weidenbaum

The Marseille, France-based Bip-Hop label may have lent a name to a generation of computer-enthusiast musicians (bip) with a taste for the rhythms of post-rap pop music (hop). Or it may have borrowed a bit of vogue wordplay already in common use. In either case, the company’s extensive various-artists Bip-Hop Generation compilation series has done much to catalog and evangelize the movement, and its individual full-length releases have been consistently cogent and thoughtfully presented, thanks to the oversight of Philippe Petit, the label’s founder, and a musician in his own right. The label has provided a home to Wang Inc., Andrew Duke, Angel, Twine, Scanner and others.

Bip-Hop Generation: Volume 6, released in late 2002, collects tracks by a global assortment of musicians, not one of whom had ever recorded a full-length album for the label. So this is anything but a Bip-Hop sampler. What it is is a bip-hop sampler, from the attenuated fractures of Alejandra & Aeron (U.S. and Spain, respectively), to the mix of cut-up vocals and stately soundtracks of Scanner (England), to the cavernous dub of Bittonic (Germany), to the evocative rhythmic variations of Ilso Väisänen (Finland), to the chaotic mélanges of the trio Battery Operated (Canada), to the only slightly adulterated industrial noise of Angel (a Finish/German duo, one half of which is Väisänen).

Where the Bip-Hop label’s Generation series aims to “document” the scene, its more recent Reciprocess + / vs series lends some participatory analysis. The series’ first edition pairs Komet (aka Frank Bretschneider) and Bovine Life (aka Chris Dooks) on a 17-track set that presents music by each of the musicians, plus collaborations and tag-team remixes. The CD booklet includes essays by and about the participants, although its topsy-turvy design may require a dose of Dramamine (if the text aims to illuminate, the text treatment unproductively obfuscates). Bretschneider is heard in a series of three exemplary bits of trebly percussive whimsy and one deeper, darker track whose beat keeps getting upset. Dooks’ work is less rhythmically succinct, more wide-ranging, as heard on his seven tracks here, from the droning “Platuex” to the backward-masked “Behind.” On the basis of the six remaining remixes and collaborative tracks, the listener will be amazed that Bretschneider and Dooks never met; they traded MP3 files long-distance. (Reciprocess doesn’t just examine collaboration; it is a collaboration, between Bip-Hop and the Fällt labels, which co-released the set. The second album in the series teamed Stephan Matthieu with Douglas Benford.)

Angel’s nr.1 – nr. 10 is the work of a formal duo — not two musicians (a la the Reciprocess collection) experimenting with parallel processes, but two musicians dedicated to making their partnership go the distance. The two are Ilso Väisänen (half of a familiar duo, Pan Sonic) and Dirk Dresselhaus (who records solo as Schneider™). If their record, which ranges from the near-silent ambience of its opening track to the full-on full-body noise of its sixth, has a single hallmark, it is a rich acoustic-ness — for example, how that sixth track, and the voluble eighth as well, feel very much of the physical world, not a genie summoned in Intel boxes. That physicality is also evident on the album’s closing track, where sounds fluctuate like loose electricity and plucked strings.

Andrew Duke is a DJ in both the contemporary and traditional meanings of the word. He makes music and spins for live audiences, but he also hosts an electronica radio show from Halifax, Canada. Sprung is his first non-self-released album, and it has the signal broadmindedness of someone who listens widely. Few would immediately associate the record’s dank, clubby opening track (“Hell Yeah”), which echoes both late new-wave goth and early hip-hop’s rudimentary syncopations, with the song that follows, an exercise in minimalist counterpoint titled “Phamakoi,” or either of those with the terror-laden dub that, with the occasional touch of glitch, commands most of the remainder of the collection.

Has any genre shown less reticence than electronica to embrace its adolescent past? Hip-hop records are more likely to praise the “old school” than to sample it, and the good cheer and fledgling awkwardness of early rock’n’roll has only recently become fashionable among guitar bands. But for many electronic musicians, the question is: Why use an Apple G4 when a Casio will do? Wang Inc.’s Risotto in 4/4 is utterly enamored with the bleepy early days of electronic music: the mechanically funky beat of Trio (hear the synthesized melodica and oompah of “Clear a Space for the King”), goofy Vocoder vocals (“Voice to Your Sponsor,” “Say, Do, Kiss”), and coldly synthesized strings (a la Angelo Badalamenti, on “Sprinking Time”). Few heeded Phil Spector’s “Back to Mono” call, but Wang (aka Bartolomeo Sailer) happily makes due with the 8-bit, even when 64-bit is readily available.

Other essential albums from Bip-Hop include its two Tonne sets — Soundtoys 2 x 12, which includes fully functional audio-games, plus music by Scanner, Hakan Lidbo and Si-cut.db, and Sound Polaroids, an installation collaboration with Scanner that draws on sourced audio from various cities, including London, Milan, Manhattan, Tokyo and Montreal — and Twine’s songful yet glitchy Recorder.

This article appeared, in slightly different form, in the 2003 issue of e|i magazine.

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