Composer Carl Stone‘s website, sukothai.com, features a dozen or so clips, dating back to 1982. For a musician today largely synonymous with multi-dimensional laptop play, it’s fascinating to set the wayback machine to a pre-Macintosh era. Listen to what constituted electronic music toward the start of the Reagan administration — and by that I don’t mean Billboard-charting singles like Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby,” Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and Vangelis’ theme to Chariots of Fire.
The earliest entry on Stone’s hit parade is “Dong Il Jang” (MP3), a 20-minute exercise in crosstalk and slipped beats. It opens with tones that come slowly to be discerned as overlapping spoken bits, bringing to mind Steve Reich’s early phase-work and Alvin Lucier’s fascination with recursive loops. The rendition here is leavened with a bit of humor, as what’s heard is a sound check (“Testing one, two”). But it’s more than a schematic, soon blossoming into something more immediately recognizable as a musical performance. Percussion, both sampled and that which results from split-second soundbites set on repeat, join in, as do female voices that seem to be of ethnomusicological origin but are truncated and layered until they sound like the Roaches at their least folkie. Operatic voices flitter by like Philip Glass on fast forward, drums bouncing between speakers with a touch of pop? Who said the early ’80s were boring?
Jeff Danger‘s “Some of My Best Friends Are,” a track off the Giovanni Chrome label’s Breach of the Preach compilation, is available for free download (MP3) from the label’s website, gcrecordings.co.uk. With its sour little bit of backward masking, and its clearly delineated structure, the piece is crying out for a vocal, but we’re fortunate enough to enjoy it before someone sets down a layer of some autobiographical ramblings. Danger has a taste for disparate little chunks of sound that when combined suggest an actual band is playing, even though virtually none of what’s played sounds remotely like standard instrumentation. Instead, it’s all rapidly failing keyboards, frying-pan percussion and lone plucked notes. It’s ramshackle pop: innovative tinkering disguised as modest music.
When does an extract best approximate the whole? When it’s a chunk of instrumental hip-hop. Hip-hop’s take on studio composition, for all its love of noise, still tends to rotate through chorus and verse. Ergo, the minute-or-less samples you can download free at fatbeats.com, a fine purveyor of hip-hop with and without the rap, can easily be looped forever.
Recent recommendations include the syrupy bass lines of Shawn J. Period‘s “The Come Back” (MP3). With the track’s casually skipped beats, it’s tailor-made for the jerky seam that cycles through every 45 seconds, when your MP3 player set on repeat turns the end into the beginning. And if you like what you hear, set up an account with fatbeats.com and order yourself a copy.
DJ Olive (aka Gregor Asch) has been there and back again, collaborating with the outward bound likes of Luc Ferrari, Kim Gordon and John Zorn, but always managing to bring it home for some seriously earthy solo dub. Witness his new full length, Heaps As: Live in Tasmania (The Agriculture), which was recorded live in Australia. It’s represented by two free downloads at the label’s website, both of them located somewhere between instrumental hip-hop and slinky dub, with i-hop’s attention to beat-for-beat’s-sakeness, and dub’s emphasis on dank grooves.
Now, “All’a’ya’alls” (MP3) may err a bit on the side of 1970s retro, but as it comes to its close the rhythm gets tortured, the horns a tad skronky, hinting at what must come next on the album proper.
And “Sub Bass Commandante” (MP3) is a must hear, the rhythm playfully flirting its way into the background, the chucka chucka beat edging ever forward, the whole thing simmering to nearly nothing by its close. And is that Nina Simone calling out from beyond the grave? More info at theagriculture.com.
Also, Olive/Asch was recently interviewed at the website of Ableton Live, the ubiquitous laptop performance software; the conversation is available in text and audio format (ableton.com, MP3).
How minimal is some techno? Here’s one answer. There’s a remix contest going on, the subject of which is “The Theme,” the early (i.e., late-1980s) techno-house anthem by Unique 3. The constituent parts are available as a free download at bleep.com/girl. And exactly how many seconds of music are required to remix the original? Just 23: a 16-second “air voice intro,” which insinuates the piece’s characteristically less than subtle beat, plus seven one-second (or less) bursts of sound: three sets of digital hi-hats, a slurry bass riff, a sudden snare and some tawdry bleeps (one on its lonesome, the others in a quick riff).
The full set is entirely listenable on its own, especially when set on random, just the individual pieces dutifully separated, side by side, like an anatomy lesson in the history of automaton pop. Think of this as the “splay mix.” Due date for more thoroughly cooked entries is April 28, 2006, so fire up your laptop. The winners won’t be relegated to virtual space. Bleep.com, the highly recommended online music retailer, will release them as proper 12″s this summer and, of course, make them available as high-end downloads.
To listeners beyond British clubland, Unique 3 is probably best known for its remix of the Chemical Brothers’ “Brothers Gonna Work It Out,” and for the inclusion of “The Theme” on one of Warp Records’ 10th anniversary collections (a compilation of “influences” that predated the label), where it shared space with 808 State and A Guy Called Gerald. More info at the sponsoring record label, the London-based Poke Records (pokerecords.com), and at the online home of Unique 3, unique3.info.