Saturday, January 2, 2010


It seems contrary to the nature of cassette tape music to make lists and anthologize. Moving on, this new year coincides with what feels like a transitional time for the fringe music world. Low-fidelity recordings are, thankfully, once again just low-fidelity recordings, nothing more or less -- "Great sounds great, good sounds good, ok sounds ok, bad sounds bad, rotten sounds rotten." Another fad in it's grave, amen. So what's next? Synthesizer music approaches critical mass and finicky me is still pretty much ok with this. Make or break will happen pretty soon with this sound -- Peaking Lights do Cluster, Brother Raven do Tangerine Dream, Driphouse is a little this, a little that, all of them doing it very well but I think we need a record to really define the terms of this dialog and either move forward or settle the issue and break new ground.

I bought a record this year that is, above all, great art, but I think also points in the direction of where the interesting music will be happening in the coming year. That record is SOFTLY SOFTLY COPY COPY by GRAHAM LAMBKIN. Something is in the air and a lot of us are turning our attention toward the beginnings of electronic music. Field recordings and musique concrete seem suddenly to have so much to offer. Oddly enough, technological innovations in last couple years are, I think, one factor behind reexamining an art form that until very recently seemed hopelessly arcane. Hand-held digital records are now lightweight, easy to use and relatively affordable. I bought an Olympus LS-10 this year for around $200 (there are cheaper options) -- when I was in college not very long ago, high-quality field recording meant a giant Marantz slung over the shoulder like a briefcase (and even then limited with fleeting recording time), and transferring audio to the computer to edit was another headache. To ears accustomed to electronically generated drones, and sounds in general, even the most mundane recordings made outdoors seem to leap out of the stereo. The possibility of narrative, however oblique, is also enticing. A collage recording can at once be deeply textural and still point beyond the abstract world of drone music. SOFTLY SOFTLY COPY COPY is a musical record, which is to say it is easy to listen to. I look forward to other artists engaging with the possibilities this record presents, and I think this could be a meaningful year for abstract music.

I would like to end these thoughts with a mention of Laurie Spiegel. I did not mention her earlier, on the topic of synthesizer music, because her work seems to run parallel to that of contemporary musicians. Similar sounds but different concerns. The Expanding Universe from 1981 is long out of print -- I downloaded it and recommend you do the same, and hope that someone represses this record in the near future. I think it will make a lot of sense to the ears of 2010.

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