Terre Thaemlitz - "Chugga: Theme for the Buck Rogers Light Rope Dance (Deep Space Probe remix by Terre Thaemlitz)" (You? Again?)
We approach this record, seemingly at its request, as a work of criticism-in-progress. A co-release from the Japanese label Mule Electronic and Kompakt, You? Again? culls tracks released by genre-indeterminate producer Terre Thaemlitz under various monikers. These constitute – much more so than with other artists, we’ll get to that in a moment – intellectually distinct projects. Thaemlitz is an intellectual; the fact that he’s non-essentialist, transgendered, and a (non-traditional) Marxist are only the most obvious reasons he’s neither in academia nor in America (Thaemlitz moved from Oakland to Kawasaki in 2001). This also suggests some of the reasons Thaemlitz and his Comatonse Recordings label have suffered from chronic under-distribution stateside. This compilation exists at least in part to address that lack, and largely succeeds in presenting a provisional overview of Thaemlitz’s work.
If there are jarring juxtapositions or fissures here, they exist within rather than between the tracks. Kompakt-bred listeners won’t be thrown by the sound, which tends to ride on the same sense of aural plenitude the label was founded on. At the same time, You? Again? is completely incommensurate with Chromophobia’s unaffordable real estate or From Here We Go Sublime’s nostalgia-laced audio mulch. The difference is nothing that can be neatly or unproblematically summarized in such imagery. As I’ve suggested above, You? Again? is not sublime by design; if music is generally understood (within certain socio-economic classes) as a vehicle for a vaguely-defined transcendence, Thaemlitz’s work is an attempt to reverse the sublimation of social relations in music, to re-embody them.
This is the impetus behind all of his work, based as it is within the umbrella term ‘electronica,’ a term taken up here and elsewhere as a microcosm for the vagaries and constantly expanding horizons of capitalism. From start to finish, these tracks embody the same grinding tension that’s found in the best criticism, and none of the context-free emotional porn that characterizes demographically homogenous genres such as indie rock and smooth jazz. These songs are primarily formal experiments, and while deeply pleasurable, it’s a pleasure that derives from the attention they pay to form and not the reproduction of familiar, legible signifiers.
Which is not to say that the signifiers at play here are not just as familiar and legible; to borrow from Joshua Clover’s reversal of the famous Adorno quote, what’s visible here is form becoming content. As listeners, the problem we’re faced with is exactly where to locate this. The Chugga tracks, which open and close the disc, seem like obvious candidates. Of these two, which are different remixes of the song “Theme from the Buck Rodgers Light Rope Dance,” the disc opener (“Terre Thaemlitz Deep Space Probe remix”) seems to best embody Thaemlitz’s project. The elements here – a 4/4 bass drum and conga pattern, led by hi-hats and slightly displaced by what Thaemlitz describes as ‘neo-expressionist’ piano clusters – are in obvious, staged tension. This reading appears, on one level, to fulfill the theoretical promise I outlined above, but it also fails somewhere along the way. Juxtaposing two apparently antagonistic genres seems like a subversive move for a band like Dirty Projectors, at least inasmuch as it makes us confront the process of identifying with a particular kind of music over another; ingrained habits tend to relegate these real confrontations to the realm of uninterrogated, minor aspects of the aesthetic. If “Theme from Buck Rogers” is in any way representative of the album or its potential as a whole, it’s in the fact that it doesn’t really go anywhere. This is far from saying it’s a chore to listen to; it’s simply a track that doesn’t move along according to any metanarrative, one that deliberately fails to come to any resolution. It’s not insignificant that the album’s last track (“500 Year Orbit remix”) very much resembles the first stripped of everything but the piano. This isn’t a synthesis or a mood piece; it’s a sealed room, a track without teleos, rhythm, or form, and a reminder of all of the exits and points of leverage that preceded it.