Sunday, June 26, 2016

Diary of Musical Thoughts Podcast Episode 31

Passenger must verifty and reconfirm the mix (short songs mix) -- 53 minutes

The original idea was for a mix of short, bizarre songs crammed together into a blitz of sensory overload.  After discovering that I didn't have enough music for that sort of mix (where did I leave that "45 Seconds Of..." compilation again??) it turned into a mix of noise, ambient and off-kilter funky electronic tracks, with an emphasis on short running times and fast transitions.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

"Islamists" attack Radiohead fans in Istanbul

An unusual incident occured in an Istanbul record shop this past Friday, where a number of loud and opinionated individuals, assumed to be young men in their 20's, 30's, 40's, or 50's, caused a disturbance during a listening party for Radiohead's newest album.  

Major media outlets were quick to condemn their behaviour as a violent attack by "Islamists".  The event even captured the attention of the members of Radiohead, who were quick to criticize the incident by labeling it as an "act of violent intolerance" and stating that "our hearts go out to those attacked".  Fortunately, not every media outlet fell into the far too easy trap of blaming "Islamists" for the incident,but the overall journalistic trend was still, as a whole, somewhat disturbing.

In the immediate aftermath of such episodes, we have come to expect the usual gamut of reflexive, ill-thought out reactions, which often tend towards outright prejudice toward those accused of perpetrating the event.  But more recently, careful and reasoned analysis is becoming more common.  Following the horrible mass shooting in Orlando one week ago, many commentators were correct to discount the purported influence of the shooter's religion.  It is now widely seen as a purely homegrown American type of crime, seeing how it was carried out by a hateful, racist thug obsessed with guns and violence -- values that have become all too prevalent in American society.  Likewise, the recent mass shooting in Tel Aviv can be best explained via similarly relatable concepts that have become quotable buzzwords among the enlightened -- "frustration", "justice", "occupation", etc. -- instead of resorting to attacks on the suspects' ideologies or religion.  

That is why the reporting on the incident in Istanbul represents a disappointing step backwards in journalistic ethics.  Reporters were quick to condemn the actions of "Islamists" rather than a far more obvious culprit -- indie music fans.  Much like the discourse surrounding the Pulse nightclub shooting was quickly steered away from allegations of radicalism and toward the never more essential debate on gun laws in America, discussion about the Radiohead listening party incident has veered toward a condemnation of "Islamists" rather than a more timely debate about behaviour of entitled indie music fans.  

It is no secret that indie music fans have been known to express their opinions often in a rude, condescending, and even forceful manner.  In the same way that mass shootings have become as American as apple pie and college football, heated objection to the musical tastes of the "other" are as indie as ironic "I hate Pink Floyd" t-shirts and pretending to have lived in Brooklyn before it was cool.  Property damage, screamed threats, and broken merchandise at Istanbul's Velvet IndieGround shop should not be taken lightly, although one must keep in mind that the video footage available on the internet is of low quality and makes it difficult to discern exactly who or what instigated the incident.  This is not to excuse the means of expression by certain indie music fans, which can undoubtedly be boorish and annoying at times, and possibly even threatening.  But one should also appreciate that incidents like these are a natural reaction by an often marginalized sector of indie fans, born out of the frustration of seeing yet another overrated Radiohead album get fawned over by an adoring and insufficiently critical mainstream music press.   

The situation is complex, with plenty of blame to be placed on both sides.  It is true that the rhetoric spread by some indie fans is not conducive to constructive discourse, and can, on occasion, result in destructive behaviour that nonetheless recalls the DIY smash-the-system punk roots of many strains of indie rock.  However, we also cannot ignore the blatant provocations of indie music shops, with their listening parties dedicated to horrifically boring musical sacred cows who were never any good to begin with, who divert needed attention from more deserving artists. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Autechre, "elseq 1-5"

Joe Muggs' interview for RA is hands down the best Autechre interview I've ever read.  Hell, it's the best article of any kind about Autechre that I've read.  And their new album "elseq 1-5" is up there with the best work of their career.

Rather than delving into intense theoretical discussions about the duo's "aesthetic" or delving into the minutiae of how their album was made, the interview turns into the long awaited oral history of the mid-90's "Artificial Intelligence" scene, or rather, the complete lack of a cohesive scene (this is discussed in detail in the interview).

They talk about the old days (not always in a positive light), how programming their music is like a form of artificial intelligence (where the computer runs smart algorithms that predict what their creator wants -- Markov chains make a cameo appearance here), the concept behind releasing a four hour album (you can't exactly plop 20-minute tracks into the middle of a single album without ruining the flow), the possibility working with hip-hop artists (never say never, but it's almost inconceivable that it hasn't happened by now, "Envane" was almost twenty (!) years ago, and I guess their remix of Sensational Meets Kouhei doesn't count?) and so much more, and it's all a must-read.  

Before discussing the new album, let's revisit the 90's, with Sean Booth quoted at length:

The last time we did that [making music aimed at Warp] was Amber [1994]. We thought we'd be a pure fringe act when we signed, but Incunabula [1993] sold like hot cakes, went to indie number one, and Warp were like, "You've got to follow that up, you need to do another album in six months." We went, [shrugs], "Oh, OK," and did this very Warp record for them. Then we never did that again. When we gave them Tri Rep I had half a mind that they were going to say, "Oh, it's not the same, we can't have this." But they went for it, and that gave us the confidence to do what we really wanted, so on Chiastic [Chiastic Slide, 1997] we went all out to be as weird as possible. I think that's when quite a few people jumped ship.

This is the kind of information we'd have killed to have in the 90's (or even five years ago), it might have settled a whole load of debates a lot more quickly.  I've never heard "Amber" as a Warp album, for me it's a lush, encapsulating listen in a way that none of the Artificial Intelligence albums were. But the process of gaining their record label's confidence and trust was all leading to something, and that something was "Chiastic Slide", i.e. Autechre doing what they really wanted to do.

The people who jumped ship with "Chiastic Slide" were back on in time for "LP5" and the peak of IDM's highbrow popularity, but that's for another time.  But "Chiastic Slide" was a challenging album because it relied more heavily on repetition than anything else they'd done to that point.  But that was precisely the reason why I loved it so much (and still do). 

Without having to worry about fitting their ideas into a semi-palatable album type of format, Autechre have finally come back around to making another "Chiastic Slide".  Five of them in fact.  For much of the past decade plus, Autechre records were etudes in rhythmic construction.  Repetition was largely replaced by intricacy.  But on "elseq 1-5", the repetition is finally back in earnest.  Melodically, it's full of echoes from the past -- the heavy reverb of "Quaristice" and "Oversteps", the robotic funk of "Tri Repetae", the ghostly ambience of "Amber", and too many more to mention.  There is no fear of recycling sounds from the past.  Any and all backtracking is sacrificed at the altar of repetition, stretching their ideas well past the ten and even the twenty minute mark in a number of instances.  It's dense, hypnotic, and immersive.  Somehow it seems to fly by much faster than a four hour album should.  Only the second part, dominated by the longest track in the collection (the 27-minute "elyc6 0nset") could use some serious editing, but just about everything else is unmissable.  

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Diary of Musical Thoughts Podcast Episode 30

"The single mode mixes reviewed in Chapter 1 were relatively simple" -- 66 minutes

There was no particular grand theme to this mix, just a set of relaxing, late night listening across various genres.  There are some acoustic, unplugged style songs, epic remixes of mid-90's electronica, and one of my very favourite Leonard Cohen songs.  Nothing was planned in advance.