Out from Out Where Amon Tobin (Ninja Tune) The Brazilian-born, Montreal-based solo artist and longtime Ninja Tune Records roster member produces yet another solid, full-length album of thick, wide-ranging, experimental drum’n’bass, with an emphasis on exotic sound sources and touches of psychedelia.
Three String Quartets Gavin Bryars (Black Box) Yes, string quartets, but ones written and performed with such an emphasis on stillness that they’re required listening for anyone interested in the ambient side of musical life. Performed by the Lyric Quartet.
A Hundred Days Off Underworld (V2) The first album by the conceptual, multi-media-oriented UK techno-icians since reducing by one member (Darren Emerson) to become a duo. These are men fascinated by the dance floor, but who use it as a means to pursue a wide variety of music.
Field Recordings 1995:2002 Fennesz (Touch) Fragile as they are visceral, Christian Fennesz’s compositions often sound like instrumental approximations of everyday noise filtered through a pop sensibility — what seems like distant traffic could just as easily be a guitar symphony, and what seems like a distant industrial hum is more likely a precisely constructed experiment in rhythm and sound.
Whitney Biennial 2002 Various artists (Whitney Museum) The New York-based Whitney Museum’s vast 2002 Biennial exhibition included its most substantial variety of sound art yet, and this compilation CD (which is available as part of the exhibit’s book-length catalog, or separately) includes 13 exemplary works by Meredith Monk, Stephen Vitiello, Marina Rosenfeld, Richard Chartier, Christian Marclay and others.
Playthroughs Keith Fullerton Whitman (Kranky) Also known as Hrvatski, Keith Fullerton Whitman has produced a full-length album of glistening electronic soundscapes built entirely from processed guitars, acoustic and electric. Much has been made of the music’s reminiscence of Terry Riley and Steve Reich, but another key precedent is the looping guitar work of Robert Fripp’s Frippertronics.
Plays Ekkehard Ehlers (Staubgold) Five concept EPs (one each dedicated, nominally, to Cornelius Cardew, Hubert Fichte, John Cassavetes, Albert Ayler and Robert Johnson) collected on a single CD, each entry a blissed-out effluence of dubby, glitchy, atmospheric transcendence.
Seed to Sun Boom Bip (Lex) Stylish to a fault, this is the sort of lightly funky background music we’ve come to expect from David Holmes and Tommy Guerrero. From strings to light scratching to found sounds to mechanized percussion, it’s downtempo at its best.
Raw Digits Super Collider (Rise Robots Rise) Super Collider duo Cristian Vogel and Jamie Liddell bring understated r&b-style vocals to expertly produced minimalist electronica, with echoes of funk.
Stoke Philip Jeck (Touch) Turntablism employed toward abstraction rather than percussion, texture rather than beats. Imagine Oval’s affection for the introspective quality of CD dysfunction, but applied to vinyl.
Footnotes: Clearly, the influence of electronics, and even a more general electronic aesthetic, is felt far more broadly than simply in music that could be described as ambient/electronic. Gavin Bryars’ string quartets are uniformly analog, but they aspire to a stillness that makes them required listening. Beyond this list of the 10 top recordings of 2002, one could easily include such other major 2002 releases as Bill Frisell‘s The Willies (Nonesuch), a trio record featuring his digitally manipulated guitar; Beth Orton‘s 21st-century folk album Daybreaker (Astralwerks); rapper Missy Elliott‘s Under Construction (Elektra), with masterful production by Timbaland; and even elements of Jon Brion‘s score to the film Punch-Drunk Love and Cliff Martinez‘s scores to the films Solaris and Narc.