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Philip Jeck - 7

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Artist: Philip Jeck

Album: 7

Label: Touch

Review date: Apr. 25, 2004

Philip Jeck creates his music using discarded mid-twentieth century record players and a mostly indistinguishable assortment of bruised, scraped, unclean old records. Utilizing homemade lock-grooves, the speed-control settings on his old turntables, a delay pedal, some sort of Casio sampling keyboard, a mixer, the occasional mini-disc player and a hefty dose of random-factor, Jeck creates a dimly-lit, slow-motion world of grimy orchestral sounds, off-kilter rhythms, and warm analogue crackle. The machines and materials he uses, the process by which he creates, and the resulting music are entirely inseparable from one another. The methods he has devised and honed over the past two decades result in music that is unmistakably his own, and is deeply emotional while also fulfilling the conceptual goal of realizing new musical possibilities in machines and artifacts long left to rot in the backwash of history.

7 is, appropriately, Jeck’s seventh solo album. To anyone familiar with his previous work, in particular 2002’s Stoke, the limitations of his highly personalized idiom will become apparent quickly. For the most part, 7 is not a step forward conceptually - the materials and procedures are pretty firmly in place, and Jeck sounds comfortable and assured within his sound world. What makes 7 more enjoyable than Stoke is the heightened degree of focus and control with which he shapes his compositions. Where the element of chance seemed to be the dominant force on Stoke, the pieces on 7 seem to be based on a loosely predetermined sense of direction. Wobbly loops still arise suddenly, in sharp rhythmic contrast to their surroundings, repeating until their asymmetrical rhythms start to make sense; the lovely crackle and hazy edges of battered vinyl are still central to the overall sound. What is different is the vague song forms that emerge from several of the pieces on 7 - the fuzzy, spacey melancholy of the intact chord progression on “Wholesome,” the short, repeating melody buried beneath static and moans on “Some Pennies,” or the perfectly-timed entry of a bluesy harmonica snarl, echoing its way out of the ancient, lopsided ragtime dub of the album’s highlight, “Now You Can Let Go.”

Two of the pieces on 7 (“Wipe” and “Veil”) are pure ambient drones, very soft and airy. There is a sense of calm and distance here, yet the music does not shed the eeriness that is present throughout nearly all of Jeck’s work. Though the sounds he produces from recordings made by others may reveal only the tiniest traces of their origins, the sadness of forgotten dreams is always present, wafting through the layers of dust and neglect that coat these objects once left for dead.

Only one track, “Bush Hum,” finds Jeck focusing directly on the conceptual framework of his art. Here he forgoes his old records, instead applying his delay pedal and primitive sampler directly to the amplified hum of one of his Bush record players. In so doing he pushes his concept to a certain limit, tapping the very electricity which gives life to his art, finding musical potential in the seemingly most unwanted aspect of his ailing machine. It is a fine statement - this static buzz which once drove man to improve his technology now becomes the focus of a creative effort, something beautiful. As a piece of music, “Bush Hum” is interesting enough, but in its abrasive repetitions, it is far from the highlight of an otherwise strikingly beautiful album. For this reason, it is probably a good thing that Jeck has seemingly settled comfortably into his well-defined method, opting not to push conceptual boundaries but instead to plumb the emotional depths of his craft, to see what unknown feelings and memories lay hibernating in the dustiest corners of our minds.

By Jesse Serrins

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