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Conduit & Torque:
A Look Back

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Dusted's tobias c. van veen takes a look at a few albums from the past few months: Kid 606's Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You, Ricardo Villalobos' Alcachofa, and Twilight Circus Dub Soundsystem's Foundation Rockers.

Conduit & Torque:
A Look Back

refractions on 2003, part 1

At the apex of the planet’s awkward tilt from the sun, the Northern Hemisphere is dowsed in all manners of snow, cloud, rain, frozen Arctic chills and general discomfort. In Montréal we celebrate with FEBRUARY PARTY, a recent tradition of the Occult Assault On Institutions crew. Before that, apparently the Province ate poutine until it was sick.

February is also a good month to try and play catch-up on the slew of releases that have poured in through the slot over the last few months. The sheer volume of music released today marches on like a Ford production line (and this, despite the fact that Tower Records has declared bankruptcy -- not, apparently, because of downloading, but because of discount prices flooding the market from supermarket chain stores. Music is food -- cheap, and for the most part, crap. Look around -- North Americans are notoriously unhealthy. We could surmise that so are their listening habits.). And as much as the electronic musician hates to admit, the ease at which certain genres can be reproduced at a rapid rate via software techniques has left the process of assessing music in a less than pleasurable state. Even, or perhaps first of all, the far out & experimental fields of soundwork are becoming codified. If software, stolen & hacked, is the great leveler and promise of ‘art to the people’, then the music produced should perhaps be kept to the producer. There seems to be a lack of posing the question ‘Why make music’? In fact, why make sound at all? Why use rhythm? This type of (normal, 4/4 based) rhythm? What is in it? What drives you there? Why share it? Why make noise? Why destroy music? But most of all, why distribute it? Why grant it the representation that that, still, today, proclaims its aura as a fetish object, something to listen to?

It is true that it is often in the distribution, the dissemination of art that art comes to generate its multivalent meanings. It’s only, as Barthes said, when the reader encounters the work that we construct our (internally collective) hallucination of affect. A hallucination that gains some classical measure of success when it reaches an uncanny consensuality...

Rewind to the summer. Ah yes -- warmth, nudity, sweat, patio drinking, and, quite possibly the best minimalist techno release, if not electronic release overall, of 2003: Ricardo Villalobos’ Alcachofa (Playhouse). Surprisingly, and despite playing this on heavy rotation, despite falling in love with its vocoded opener, ‘Easy Lee’, when Villalobos debuted a mix of the paranoid breakbeat at Mutek 2002, despite falling in love all over again when the single was dropped at almost every occasion during Mutek 2003, despite the fact that the last night of Mutek that year, the Sunday, was finished with the opening strains of ‘Easy Lee’, despite, basically a complete and unrequitted love with the intensity of this album, with the melancholy and violence of ‘What You Say’, with every moment of Alcachofa’s stripped, linear tracks that revolve in generative loops, string sounds vibrating wirethin, linelike, electric currents, as sound became haunted memory, at points unpenetrable, and the kick an accessory but not a necessity to movement, recalling that dancing is a pleasure found under rain and stars, and as if Villalobos’ increasing rockstar dj-sets were proof of his coming fall, his self ab/use pushing to brinks & edges of sleep deprivation and mental fragmentation, edges that here we hear, in the odd collection of rhythmatics that pronounce the minimalist as a scientist, each drop of sonus liquid pure for the ear and the body to ingest -- like speed, despite all of this and more, I have yet to write a word on this spectacular and unsettling disc that I can only call, with bowing sincerity, a tour de force.

There were other moments in 2003, but none tasted so sweet as Villalobos, the world travelling Chilean who now spins Berlin as his home...

Flashback to that scene in Blade Runner -- ‘Memories,’ says Deckard, ‘You’re talkin’ about memories’. 2003 is already a rewind of sounds where each particle refracts all the tangents of its first exposure. The danger of writing ‘on’ music consists of losing the tentacles, the threads that stream from each primal encounter. For example, take Ryan Moore’s release under the Twilight Circus Dub Soundsystem moniker, Foundation Rockers (M). When this first crossed my speakers, sinking them low into the noisefloor with the curve of its low-end shelf, the political situation in Iraq was under the spotlight... The opening chords of ‘Love Is What We Need’, featuring Big Youth on the mic, lets loose the virulent strain: "We don’t want no war...." The window was open, up went the volume knobs, the moist heat suffusing the atmosphere with this reggae peace march. This was to be followed by Luciano’s ‘What we got to do now’ -- posing the Lenin question in dub (that’s Luciano from Jamaica, not Switzerland). And at the same time -- while listening, and remembering this moment of listening -- Moore’s volcanic rhythms, mountains of flaming dub, connected my tingling body with all the prior times I have heard his music, and of the first time, nervous in downtown Vancouver, interviewing him for Discorder magazine. As the horns continue to intertwine their brassy blares on Foundation (coutesy of Micheal ‘Bami’ Rose, Eddie ‘Tan Tan’ Thornton, Trevor Edwards), I am simultaneously transported... Out through these fields of sound and memory, leaving Foundation a succession of continual reawakenings to the past, in echo of each specific place and time, just as how, in the dub echo, there is the echo of the past that allows us to hallucinate the future, to engage in the imaginary processes of ‘seeing sound’, its visions, as futuristic soundscapes, alternate topographies brought on by sonic catalysis, the ‘sonographies’ that signal the pleasure of the listener lost in her reverie, lost in the dance of time. Rewind: Proust in his cork-lined room, smiling in sickness with the pleasures of his childhood....

Nothing could be farther from the oceanic rhythms of Twilight Circus than Kid606’s Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You (Ipecac). The return of the Kid exhibited all the welcome tendencies toward the attention deficit disorder style of composition that marks the Kid’s mangling bouts of beat madness & pisstakes on the IDM scene. Yet was I not the only one who felt that the undercurrent of (happy) hardcore and acidic breakbeats dated the album’s palette? On the liner notes, the fine print, the Kid lets on the album was composed 1998-2003, which perhaps accounts for the overt dominance of the jungle aesthetic. Once you’ve destroyed everything, what’s left? From what ashes were we expecting the Kid to resurrect? The edge in the Kid is cartoonish, not perverse (the difference from Aaron Funk/Venetian Snares). Evidence that three tracks in -- ‘Andy warhol is dead but we still have hope’ -- which leads into ‘ecstasy motherfucker’, with the kiddyrave sample "the beat goes boom boom boom" and "jumping motherfuckas’." Warhol was a playful mofo who worked like a fiend to establish his overproductive aesthetic that, in its own way, wrought pop caricatures as uncanny through carnivorous incorporation of all media (we could also say the same, after N. Katherine Hayles, of Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel, House of Leaves, Pantheon 2000). It would appear that the Kid’s goal is to play out, to the last chord, the playful Warholian game of pop-media. Yet this time around, the process is indistinguishable from the source -- the pop genres of (happy) hardcore and rave jungle -- and the ironic uncanny that had Warhol with the last laugh is buried in the Kid’s efforts to impress with speed rather than with the mentality. It isn’t until the fifth track, ‘total recovery is possible’, that the mind is brought to the blender hitherto reserved for his samples. Emotional temperatures are measured in the obfuscation of obvious genre play, travelling from the track’s opening darkness to its reflective end. The plateau of this meditation seems to be tapped in ‘if I had a happy place this would be it’, an almost sickeningly sweet take on the sugar sap of the bliss pounded home in his kiddyrave moments. The burnout of both ravekicker and mental moment is found in ‘woofer wrecker’, wherein the two musical thematics are set to a kind of duel. Stuttered sampling and timestretch vocalization is offset to inventive perversion of early ‘90s hardcore synthesizer melodies -- cheese or please? And does the final track, ‘parenthood’, scorn or support the Kid’s heart of true love in the face of Disneyfied harmonies? I’d like to think the final spit is what the Kid is capable of, a poised take on the intensity that burns through his veins recombinated with the fuzziness of Boards of Canada, re-presented in an ambientscape drifting on another edge of bliss -- that of the thought. Final spin... the Kid’s answer to the ambiguity of his notorious album -- Down With the Scene (Ipecac 2000) -- is a blissout of party vibes and wandering moments of jocular reflection that defer the primary questions of appropriation, recycling & regurgitation set out by Warhol in a fashion that is not altogether unpleasant, but somewhat unsatisfying. That said, and as I am sure Simon Reynolds will appreciate, cranking ‘ecstasy motherfucker' is a guilty pleasure.

By tobias c. van Veen

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