Mini-CD Grab Bag

FB 50 is the second 3″ CD-ROM compilation from It consists mostly of MP3 files (Zbigniew Karkowski, Koji Asano and others), but also includes Quicktime and Shockwave activities, some applications, and a copy of the PDF file for the album’s cover art. It’s reported to work on PC, Mac, Linux and Unix platforms. is an online label whose website is purposefully obscurant, burying content deep in a maze of fragmented pages that make art out of your worst computer-error nightmares. The CD-ROM edition is more manageable, though its index screen’s tendency to switch colors and type size maintains a taste of the website’s visual impact. Merzbow, the Japanese noise unit, contributes a brief psychedelic video loop. Francisco Lopez appears in a video of a performance from the Electrograph Festival held in October 2001 (“recorded by Andreas Pieper on MiniDv using Sony PC-100e with nightshot[tm]”). An application by Atau Tanaka purportedly uses tracks from your computer, but it didn’t seem to function properly. (A file attributed to Gescom was likewise not recognized on two PCs on which the disc was run.) But the MP3 files all run smoothly, and range from manic exercises in digital disarray (Max Muster) to dark downtempo techno (Lutsch Symphonic Orchestra). More than just a set of listening material, the CD-ROM format, as envisioned by, is a intriguing hands-on situation that lends a kind of tactile experience to a brand of music that tends to be abstract and disembodied.

Foundry Records Inaugural EP

Ben Swire‘s Equilibrium consists of four tracks that balance synthesized backdrops with pointilist percussion. On “Interim,” it’s a glitchy little rhythmic figure atop an aural swell. On “Departure,” it’s initially what sound like heavily echoed castanets atop a deep, building resonance. The EP is the first in a series of mid-length releases from Foundry, a San Francisco Bay area label run by musician Michael Bentley. Swire is an Amherst-educated musician who has recorded with, among others, Riz Maslen (Neotropic). Swire has a film composer’s way with extended moods (Equililbrium‘s fourth track is titled “Score”), and his compositions develop along narrative lines, moving from scene to scene with dramatic intent. On “Departure,” for example, those initial castanets develop first into drum’n’bass and later into a locomotive trance. As is Bentley’s plan, the EP length lends the release a compact conceptual certainty.

Breakout Hit

Name: Sonic Breakbeat Ӣ Rating: Way Cool Ӣ Format: Online Software Ӣ Play

Classic Breakout with a musical purpose. The audio-game Sonic Breakbeat is not that different from the early video game Breakout. You move a paddle back and forth along the bottom of the screen, bouncing a small ball up into a series of blocks, until you’ve eliminated all of the blocks. What programmer Justin Bakse has done, ingeniously, is to associate various sound elements to the blocks, and to time those elements so that the game runs as one single continuous rhythmic and melodic sequence. The instructions read, in part, like basic music theory for pop-song writers: “Hitting blocks that contain the same sample builds anticipation; anticipation yields excitement when a new sample is played.”

Barry Adamson’s The King of Nothing Hill

Barry Adamson goes out of his way to produce an ever-growing body of work that isn’t likely to sit on any single record shelf — from his literate, post-punk rock’n’roll as a member of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, to his atmospheric soundtrack commissions (Last of England, Delusion), to his own self-motivated studio experimentation (best exemplified by The Negro Inside Me). His new album, The King of Nothing Hill (Mute, 9/3), is as frivolous and frothy, as funky and, largely, joyous, as some of his past records have been chin-strokingly circumspect. With a collection of musicians seemingly larger than those of Ray Charles’s and James Brown’s bands combined, he sings and talks his way through ten scenic slices of moody, mid- and uptempo swagger, all of which could fit comfortably under the umbrella provided by the name of the album’s opening cut, “Cinematic Soul.” On “Whispering Streets” a voice repeatedly intones, “Welcome to the ghetto,” while threatening sounds whip from your speakers. On “Black Amour” he tries on the threads of a fellow Barry — White, that is — and embraces a heavily perfumed brand of orchestrated loving. There are nods to contemporary music, such as the drum’n’bass backing percussion on “When Darkness Calls.” But Adamson is more likely to dig deep in the past, as he does with the slowly swinging horns of “That Fool Was Me”; on “Le Matin des Noire,” buoyed by a sample of John Coltrane and Archie Shepp, he starts by noting the classic films that have contributed to his vision of Paris. Fans of Adamson’s immersive screen recordings will delight in the album’s penultimate track, “The Crime Scene,” which plays like a mini radio drama, jumping from incident to incident and incorporating street sounds and voices. It’s a thrilling ride.

Originally published in the August 29, 2002, issue of Tower Records’s epulse, number 8.33

Monster Mash of Devo, Nina Simone

Much has been made of “mashups,” the name applied to freeform conglomerations of familiar pop songs. The term has done as much harm as good, since so much great music these days is the result of multiple samples drawn from varied sources, underground and above. Search all you’d like for madcap FrankenMP3 files that graft Britney Spears onto Nirvana, but there are plenty of thoroughly legal studio appropriations worth your attention. Witness “Love Story” — the 13th track on the album Night Works by Layo and Bushwacka! (their exclamation point), which manages to lay a chunk of sad-toned Nina Simone atop a rhythm you’ll perhaps recognize from Devo’s “Mongoloid.” The idea might sound as tasteless as the original Devo lyric, but the result is likely to be heard on dancefloors for the foreseeable future. L&B slow “Mongoloid” down just enough to match Simone’s voice, to which they lend a bit of echo. Complete with an extended, slowly building intro straight out of a Cure hit, this song got to be heard to be believed.