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Nicolas Collins - Devil’s Music

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Artist: Nicolas Collins

Album: Devil’s Music

Label: EM

Review date: Apr. 1, 2010

Fourteen years into the Clear Channel era of radio consolidation, Nicolas Collins’s Devil’s Music, once a proud celebration of local culture and programming, now risks appearing straight-up elegiac. Of course, there remain pockets of interesting and diverse radio across the country: radio as a medium isn’t going anywhere, the Low Power FM movement has been gaining momentum, and some college and community stations still do great work. Also, driving down the Eastern Seaboard last summer, I absolutely loved the gradual increase in the number of preacher rants as I ventured further south. Regardless, if you think that the FM band in your neighborhood is a homogenized corporate wasteland, you’re right.

“Devil’s Music” involves the performer surfing the radio dial as snatches of the broadcasts are sampled and then “re-rhythmitized” into brief loops by a customized “stuttering unit.” The performer can then determine the output by selecting, de-tuning, and mixing the loops. When he toured the concept around the world in the mid-1980s, Collins noticed that “[d]uring each concert there came a transforming moment when the audience realized what was happening: a word from a local newscaster or the score from that day’s football match hinted that this was not off-the-rack electronic noise, but was made-to-measure out of the here-and-now, just for us.” A performance of “Devil’s Music” takes the temperature of the times, and were Collins to put out a Devil’s Music 2010, it would make for a great listen, but that listening experience would likely be far more generalized than any of his ‘80s performances.

Em’s reissue of Devil’s Music expands upon the original 1986 LP by including the 1987 Real Landscape cassette, composed of live Devil’s Music performances in Europe, and another piece from the time called “The Spark Heard ‘Round The World.” Also included is software that apes Collins’s original set-up and allows the listener to create her own Devil’s Music. As such, the full breadth of the concept shines through in a way that the original two-track LP can’t match.

Those two pieces, one pulled from New York dance/hip-hop and the other from easy listening stations, are still incredible. The first track obviously lays the foundation for the hip hop-influenced glitch that followed 15 years later, and the second predicts how folks like Jan Jelinek and Ekkehard Ehlers mine beauty from the simple repetition of layered and processed acoustic sounds. Real Landscape takes a broader approach by skipping across the entire radio band, which results in rhythmic, emotional, and occasionally hilarious mash-ups of advertisements, pop songs, dance tracks, old-time singers, and string sections.

It’s wonderful to imagine how these performances differed from night to night and city to city, and the reissue really highlights the pure fun inherent in Collins’s idea. No track is “better” than the next; they are just different pieces of a large media puzzle that, in the time since the original release, has sadly grown smaller.

By Brad LaBonte

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