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Murcof - Martes

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Artist: Murcof

Album: Martes

Label: Leaf

Review date: Jun. 18, 2002

I never liked classical music when I was younger (you know, the point after which I realized there was more to music outside of Janet Jackson but before I grew a brain). Since I was a punk bastard, I thought things involving tradition, rules, and dogmatic application of technique were for suckers. Over time, though, I came to realize that all music has rules, and all of those rules can be broken in an infinite and complex number of ways. And, it was only as I got older that I realized that it wasn’t the sound itself that drove me to punk rock, but rather the overall mood and atmosphere that the songs created. And, it was only as I got older and listened to more and more different types of music that I began to understand the beauty of going against the grain, not really socially-speaking (but kind of), but more or less texturally-speaking. The most interesting music is that which creates contrast, either sonically or in theory, and then works from there on other ideas. As time has passed, electronic music has evolved (in a popular, non-avant garde world) from sounds created with singular visions, to music that through the miracles of gifted producers and possibly Powerbooks and samplers, has become a new form of composition, improvisation, and yes, pop music again that relies on contrast to create its most affecting work. I suppose this brings it all full circle, to the work issued by the first “electronic musicians”, only this time it’s been removed from the hands of the theoreticians and placed into our technology saturated world where it can be used writ large.

It is around this point (sorry, long-winded, I know) that Tijuana, Mexico resident Fernando Corona aka Murcof enters the picture with his first full-length under the moniker Martes. It mines territory that has been picked over a bit before, but at the same time seeks to tweak the concept of sterile digital sounds against lush acoustic ones. As opposed to merely copping the sounds of classical music to be then chopped up and reinserted into an electronic environment, Corona wants the samples to retain their overall mood within his work, thus forging some odd combination of his readings of classical pieces juxtaposed with his own highly rhythmic counterpoint. Initially, after reading the one sheet and scouring the disc for notes on the samples I was a bit confused as to how I would even gauge the original moods with no reference to the base pieces. With each listen, though, I came to realize that I had underestimated Murcof’s work and his goals. There’s no doubt that Murcof’s manipulations place him at the front and center of the whole composition process, and rather than just trying to find a place where the orchestration works, whole tracks are just constructed around subtle phrasing.

“Marmol” relies mostly on the same piano sample, but its context gradually evolves into one of echoing radar blips of rhythm amidst submerged ambient tones. And this is all before Murcof drops a graceful string sample into the mix. The sample placed at the beginning of “Maiz” is more unnerving and tense than almost anything else on the record, this time relying on a balance between the simple sound of a bowed string and a gradual incorporation of more standard electronic whirs, clicks, and bursts of fuzz. The mood of the whole track takes a decidedly sullen turn, though, this time referring back to more brooding string selections as the rhythm slowly gathers steam into a full clicking gallop. On “Mo”, Corona uses a scratchy piano sample, carefully editing it around another tight track of tense ambience and tight rhythm, before allowing more chaotic piano lines to burst through the mix. “Mes” is one of the best tracks here, working both a string sample and a piano sample against each other, while the beat is left clapping somewhere in the background, possibly even next door. Once again, this is all before Corona switches things up, bringing the beat front and center and allowing the gracefully repetitions of the samples to build the mood. “Mapa” adds samples of what sounds vaguely like a choir, thus greatly enhancing one of the more upbeat tracks on the disc. The album finally concludes with “Unison” (coincidentally, the only track that does not start with “m”). The sample du jour here is one of tensely bowed strings, repeating in a frenzy now and again, all the while sweeping through more layers of delicate ambience and the occasional piano twinklings. The thing about most of these tracks is that, in terms of a mood they all seem to stem from the same place. They all seek to achieve a sound of general uneasiness, mystery, or intrigue, and in large part they're highly successful without sounding like carbon copies of each other.

Try as I might, I can’t really think of whole lot of other electronic artists besides folks like Ekkehard Ehlers and Stephan Mathieu who are mining similar territory with regards to classical music as an integral part of electronic composition. Even still, Corona’s Murcof project differentiates itself in seeking not to either reconstruct tracks completely or play individual moods and places. Rather, the emphasis here is on using both electronics and acoustics to enhance each other. Admittedly, after a couple of cursory listens I was ready to dismiss this album, perhaps wanting more from an interesting idea like this one. However, as I listened to these tracks over and over again, I began to realize that Corona’s strength lies in what he doesn’t really do – namely the fact that he shies away from a virtual overload of samples and electronics, instead relying on minimal techniques to create thoroughly moving electronic music. All in all, a very strong and masterful first full length from what looks to be a promising artist.

By Michael Crumsho

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