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Ricardo Villalobos - Thé Au Harem d’Archimède

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Artist: Ricardo Villalobos

Album: Thé Au Harem d’Archimède

Label: Perlon

Review date: Dec. 7, 2004

Most cringed when they realized that the title of Ricardo Villalobos’ second album was a pun. Thé Au Harem d’Archimède = théorème d’Archimède (aka “tea in the harem of Archimede” derived from “the theory of Archimede”.) Not exactly dainty wordsmithery, but you can’t pin it on Ricardo: the title is drawn from the Mehdi Charef book and film of the same name. Charef’s book maps out the tensions felt by second-generation Arabs living in France in the 1980s through the eyes of Madjid and his friend Pat. Their lives are rootless by design and remotely interstitial, hovering between two distinct cultures - their home life, strictly Arab, and their social and school life, feeling distinctly out of place within French culture.

Villalobos’ early years were, one imagines, similarly ‘rootless’ or unsettled: Escaping Pinochet’s military coup in Chile in 1973 when he was three years old, Villalobos’ family relocated, and the artist found himself living in Frankfurt and Berlin. He’s also traveled through Cuba and Brazil, in part to further his studies in music and percussion. Much has been made of the diasporic nature of ‘German’ minimal house, with Lucien-N-Luciano also from Chile, and Uwe Schmidt moving in the opposite direction, from Germany to Santiago. The record’s title hints at a similar ‘rootlessness’, but Villalobos appears settled and happy in Berlin; perhaps it’s more about ‘aesthetic commentary’. Because if any of the recent flush of minimal house artists draw from disparate parts of said diaspora, it’s Villalobos. His microbial percussion, all fractals and blinking atomic patterns, is reminiscent of African music, and the woozy tones he embraces for texture and tone are warped and blushing like the best sputtering electronic music.

Thé Au Harem d’Archimède feels like a baffled-hand answer to the anthemic status of Villalobos’ 2003 tracks “Easy Lee” and “Dexter”. There’s nothing here that’s quite as catchy or instantly navigable - and that’s not negative. On Thé Au Harem d’Archimède, Villalobos shifts from overt to covert. He’s still the master of the slow crawl, but everything’s under water or glass. It’s an album that plays more with the soft impact of slowly mutating percussive patterns, bowel-tremor bass that spreads like an oil slick over the surface of your body, and the occasional odd flash of colour: In “Hireklon”, pattering handclaps and a moody set of pulsations are interrupted by the ill-logic of atonal acoustic guitar that sounds, all at once, like 20th century classical, avant-Flamenco, and Keiji Haino’s recent work for gut-string. It’s a startling moment precisely because it works so well.

Most of Thé Au Harem d’Archimède is low to the ground, greyscale stuff. On “Time to Myself”, a vocalist murmurs distractedly, in a high, faltering tone, “I just wanna be true to myself,” accompanied by lone strikes at an electric piano. These grabs at ‘hooks’ are all but lost to sea, sent out into the water like skimming rocks. A set of sick, distressed tones accumulate throughout “Hello Halo”, yet another queasy, water-logged piece. But that’s the charm of Villalobos’ music: There’s a real pleasure in these gelatinous, liquefied forms, even at their most reduced and flushed-out. At its weakest, Thé Au Harem d’Archimède sounds like crib-notes for Alcachofa (Villalobos’ debut album from 2003); but more often than not, it extrapolates other fields of possibility, stringing together a series of plateaus, extending the ideas that Villalobos sent forth in his early 12”’s for the Perlon label. For all the tension built into Villalobos’ music, it rests perfectly.

By Jon Dale

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