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Terrestrial Tones - Blasted

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Artist: Terrestrial Tones

Album: Blasted

Label: Psych-o-Path

Review date: Nov. 14, 2004

Repetition is a device that empties the grave, renders the inanimate animate; gets the necrotic walking and talking. Even when the form itself is unshaped, emptied of idea, cribbed of its content, repetition empowers communication without the minimum of power needed. Repetition’s utility is myriad: politicians use it to inflate sagging claims; Jean-Luc Godard used it to assemble his celluloid character(s); Hebraic Biblical scribes, Greek poets, and propagandists use/d it to facilitate mnemonic; corporations use it to bring breath to their logo: one increased from twice, to thrice, gives the impression of development, of a trend, or transformation. And repetition is – of course – used also in music.

So enters Minimalism. There’s the usual cast of characters, be they Feldman, Riley, Young, Reich or Adams. For the overly critical critic, minimalism IS repetition; for the patient, for the open-minded (and ear’d), minimalism isn’t so much repetition as it is a slow transformation: Yes, Feldman’s pieces use repeating figures, but each repetition isn’t regurgitation of its predecessor; it’s a permutation of that predecessor, a shape softened in some way, shrunk or enlarged, stretched or compacted. The fundamental atomic structure of the sound remains, but it’s taken on something new, and continues to do so throughout the duration of the piece, be it six minutes, or six hours.

The same goes for Riley, Young, Reich and Adams: threads of sound sew themselves up and slowly unwind, creating and dissolving a sonic tapestry which - at first - threatens to suffocate, and then relents, becoming as loose as the mouth around an old sock.

Perhaps this is obvious. If so, Black Dice’s Eric Copeland has either misunderstood the formula or is enacting a sort of punk nihilism upon it, hoping that minimalism’s destruction will lead to a Brand New Form.

Whatever Copeland’s intention, it’s not working. Critical “grade-inflation” gave the Black Dice a pass on their egregious follow-up to 2003’s chimerical Beaches and Canyons, the banal Creature Comforts. It’s one thing to get turned on to musique concrete, it’s another entirely to misinterpret the genre as artistic license to walk into the studio and pound away at a Korg Kaoss Pad in hopes of growing some flesh on decaying bones. Unfortunately, Creature Comforts marks the beginning of not only a drummer-less Black Dice, but a band also infatuated only with effecting FX pedals to no creative yield whatsoever. And – of course – very few have called them on it; so they’re only too willing to continue on the same path.

With Blasted, Eric Copeland brings his twiddling knobs together with sparring partner, Mr. Dave Portner (a.k.a. Avey Tare), one of the musical geniuses behind Animal Collective. As a duo, Portner and Copeland operate under the Terrestrial Tones moniker, a name that’s seen print only once prior to Blasted, finding sound and ink on the Space is No Place compilation, also on Psych-o-Path. On paper, this duo is a combination worthy of intrigue. Sure, it’s a given that Copeland’s going to bring the glitch, but with Portner, the possibilities are seemingly endless. Tribal drumming? Ethereal singing? Cascading acoustic guitar?

Actually, none of the above. Instead one’s privy to a handful of short, go nowhere cuts that half-heartedly attempt to pass off spinning wheels for linear progression.

Tremolo, wah-wah, delay, and various mixers band together to strangle “found sounds,” “field-recordings,” and other sampled yawn-inducing blah. Some of this is humorous: the 11th track sounds like Copeland or Portner sampled each other doing bong-hits; it lasts for 34 seconds. “Danny’s Villian” – all 28 seconds of it – sounds like a truncated Nintendo soundtrack wearing a fuzz-pedal’d wig. Track six sounds like an Austrian public telephone unwilling to complete the transaction. “Heavy Angel” – the longest of the lot – takes what sounds like a slowed-down lion’s growl and fits it with a scissor glitch, lasting over 10 minutes. “West Indian Day Parade” begins with a “field-recording”: cymbals and drums slice and bump into one another, and, then, instead of bringing the electronics in slowly, they shove the field-recoding aside – like two drunks fighting for the same cab.

While Godard attempted to destabilize the viewer’s perception via repetition of frames, the musicians of the minimalist school sought to stabilize the listener’s perception through a facet of repetition: symmetry. And while their repeating themes weren’t entirely invariant, the incremental repetition – the subtle shift in form – lent a more supple appeal to its form in flux. This is an enterprise that calls for kid gloves; an aspiring gourmet doesn’t want the young’ns stampeding into the kitchen while the soufflé’s setting. But, with Blasted, that’s what’s rendered: a disparate electronic sauce beaten into formlessness; flash baked and deflated as quickly as it rises.

Sadly, Blasted is indicative of so many recordings that are being heaved out onto the market today: awkward, unfocused, assuming one can emulate past masters with a mere tweak of a knob; and with a wealth of truly excellent electronic music out there, why waste time on this?

By Stewart Voegtlin

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