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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Best CDs of 1996

By Marc Weidenbaum

  1. In Pine Effect
    (Astralwerks) The least renowned of the major new British electronicists makes an incredibly fun and thoughtful album, packed with humorous and organic-sounding digital gurgles. It’s so at play with rhythmic possibilities that you’ll find yourself tapping your foot on a different down beat with each successive listen.

  2. Litany
    Arvo Part (ECM) One of the most beautiful recordings yet from this Estonian classical composer. Not electronic in any sense, but very much evocative of the ethos of the ECM record label (and its founder, Manfred Eicher), which espouses space, ambience and tonal patience. Fans of Part are endlessly fascinated by his ability to sound ancient and modern simultaneously, and this album exemplifies that unique quality. The title piece is for soloists, chorus and chamber orchestra. The rest of the album is heavy on strings — there’s a piece for string orchestra, and a piece for string orchestra joined by a string quartet.

  3. 68 Million Shades …
    Spring Heel Jack
    (Trade 2/Island U.K.) With its occasional tropical aura and the string-laden evocations of uptown frivolity, this album begs to be dismissed as party music when in fact it is an expertly produced, highly thoughtful, jazz-informed series of tunes by one of the most respected British electronic duos.

  4. Heat (soundtrack) Various artists
    (Warner Bros.) The music for a film directed by Michael Mann (Manhunter, Thief, TV’s Miami Vice) is as carefully selected as his casts (this little production featured Robert De Niro and Al Pacino facing off in a coffee shop) and as hyper-designed as his sets (he favors the romantic neon blue of modern film noirs). The score proper is by Elliot Goldenthal (Drugstore Cowboy, Interview with the Vampire, Alien3) and the compositions and licensed tracks include ambient contributions from Kronos Quartet, Moby, Michael Brook, Brian Eno, Lisa Gerrard, Einsturzende Neubauten and others.

  5. Endtroducing
    DJ Shadow
    (Mo Wax/FFRR) The title is meant ironically, since Shadow has been producing moody instrumental music since the early ’90s, but this album brought him a newfound audience for his blunted beats, with their echoes of surveillance technology, AM radio and old-school hip-hop.

  6. Offbeat: A Red Hot Soundtrip
    Various artists
    (WaxTrax!/TVT, 1996) Skylab, DJ Krush, Meat Beat Manifesto and others unite for AIDS-charity collection. Focus is on remarkable team-ups: Vocalists Mark Eitzel, David Byrne and (poet) Amiri Baraka meet, respectively, My Bloody Valentine, Tomandandy and DJ Spooky. Also, jazz traditionalists Christian McBride (bass) and Joey DeFrancesco (organ) meet DJ Krazy.

  7. Feed Me Weird Things
    (Warp) The British electronicist makes his full-length debut after a period of 12″ releases. A dozen tracks of errant drum’n’bass for folks who find Aphex Twin too airy and Photek too arid.

  8. USSR Repertoire (The Theory of Verticality)
    DJ Vadim
    (Ninja Tune) An album that might give trip-hop a good name, with its porous layers of noise and rhythms, its loving echoes of hip-hop and an extended play time (over two-dozen tracks in all) that invites use as mood-inducing background.

  9. The Magnificent Void
    Steve Roach
    (Hearts of Space) One of the prolific American ambient master’s most elusive recordings — still, subdued, haunting.

  10. Source Lab 2
    Various artists
    (Source/Gyroscope, 1996) Little is readily available stateside from the French label Source; so this compilation is a rare taste of the trip-hop descendants of composer Erik Satie and chanteur Serge Gainsbourg, most notably Dimitri From Paris and Extra Lucid.

    Note: was launched in the fall of 1996, but updates to the site were only indexed as of May 30, 1999; thus, some of these earlier publication dates are approximations. Prior to 1996, versions of what eventually became were housed on websites at and, before that,

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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