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Raglani - Husk

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Artist: Raglani

Album: Husk

Label: Arbor

Review date: Jun. 27, 2012

It’s 1972. You’ve just got your hands on an EMS Synthi A. It’s got a patch panel, a bank of oscillators, even a joystick. It looks nothing like a guitar or any other instrument you know. It not only looks like the future, it sounds like the future.

It’s 2012. You’ve just got your hands on an EMS Synthi A. Compared to your sleek, button-less iPhone, all those patches, oscillators and even the joystick look nothing like the future. It looks instead like some vintage idea of the future. It doesn’t sound like the future, either — you’ve seen too many episodes of Doctor Who and Lost in Space for it to sound like the world of tomorrow. But nor does it sound like the past. Its range of voltage-modulated analog tones are still too alien and off-putting to stay comfortably in the past. And it certainly doesn’t sound like now.

So what exactly does it sound like? What do we do with technology that is seemingly obsolete yet still offers so much potential?

This is the question Joseph Raglani has asked for the last decade or so. On his blog, The Sixth Ear, he doesn’t so much play the role of electronic music historian as he does analog advocate, posting pictures of vintage synths, clips of classic recordings, and grainy photos of men surrounded by banks of obscure technology. He’s not creating an archive. He’s keeping alive a store of esoteric knowledge, like an alchemist pushing his craft in the face of the newly developing hard science.

His idea, then, is not to replicate the sound of a particular era but to get at the spirit that animated the first generation of synthmakers, bedroom tinkerers and academic sound researchers. And what most intrigues about Husk is that really sounds nothing like the classic era of analog electronics, even though it is, in many ways, steeped in that tradition.

For one, It’s not even purely electronic (or completely analog). Raglani uses a bass, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, cooing vocals and sitar. His arrangements show a similar openness, stuffed with guitar hooks, coy melodies, pleasing harmonic movement and regular rhythms, all wrapped in layers of warm, pulsing analog tones. Raglani eschews the ear-bleed frequencies of extreme electronics in favor of a glowing, buzzing hive of rich, complex tones.

But the nine pieces that make up this double vinyl release certainly don’t qualify as songs, either. The structures are too loose, too open ended to suggest any narrative. They have multiple centers of gravity, all the hooks and rhythms competing with Raglani’s throbbing bands of bright, sculpted waveforms.

The image of a painter working on a canvas comes to mind: applying thick layers of color, experimenting with new textures, taking away others, adding shades, highlighting. In short, these pieces feel, as so much other classic electronic music does, like process, not product. Raglani could work on them forever and not be done.

Husk is ostensibly a compilation of Raglani’s past work, much of it released in various less permanent formats like cassettes and tour CD-Rs. The works that appear here are edited, remixed versions, woven together into side-long suites. They are new versions of the past, simultaneously looking forward and backward. They are a way of exploring the present that is, just like the modular technology it’s based on, unstable, prone to surprise, built to embrace imperfection rather than realize some definite, final vision. Revision is more like it, the space to go back in time and rewire the present, on the way to the future. Here then is the real message of electronic music: It’s not an expression of the future, but of playful, unfettered freedom.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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