Review of Between Two Points [12k1012]

Electronic Music Reviews (.COM)

A few reviews ago, I bemoaned about a lack of interesting music coming out of the “clicks & cuts” universe. I felt that this style was getting a bit too repetitive, a bit tiring, and a bit old. Well, it still is – most of it, anyways. But since writing that review I’ve started to rethink the reasons why this style of music is getting tiring. It’s not that “clicks” and “cuts” all sound the same, thereby limiting what can be made out of those sounds; rather, I think it’s because artists are using the same formula for these micro sounds that they use with other, “macro” sounds: focusing these sounds around predictable and predictably mediocre rhythms. One of the things I like about the idea of glitch music is that glitches are the errors, the throwaway remnants of most electronic music. By foregrounding those sounds, an artist is foregrounding the artificiality of music creation and recreation. That’s interesting. But placing these sounds within a typical rhythm-centered musical context seems to defeat the purpose, rendering interesting sounds mundane.

Aren’t there other ways to create experimental electronic music without relying on unexperimental structures? Of course there are. Some examples include moving these glitches to the corners of music, so they function as melodic accompaniment; foregrounding the glitches without forcing them into a discernible rhythmic structure; or creating tapestries of sound, glitches either occupying the foreground or background of a track. When an artists shifts the focus of the music away from repetition and rhythm and toward the overall sound experience, then these glitch sounds suddenly take on new and more interesting dimensions. It is a combination of these different approaches that I hear on Between Two Points, a two-disk set which brings together artists and music from Taylor Deupree’s two labels, 12k and Line. 12k is the more familiar label, the one which spawned Deupree’s own music and the music of Shuttle358 (aka Dan Abrams). Since its inception in 1997, this label has been at the forefront of the “clicks and cuts” or “lowercase” musical movement. Line is Deupree’s and Richard Chartier’s more avant-garde label, which specializes in the micro-micro-micro relationship between sound and silence (with an emphasis on the latter).

So, what makes the music on these disks – and, by extension, these labels – different from other “glitch” musics? To start, I think the artists on these labels, the artists featured on Between Two Points, share a profound disinterest in rhythm. They will use rhythm, but only to further other, more interesting musical ideas. And thank god for that! In my mind, this is what electronic music should be all about – exploring the fascinating new sounds that electronic and computer instruments can create, without all the baggage that accompanies most mainstream music. The songs on this disk are centered around ideas, music and otherwise, that can go in virtually any direction at all – and do. These are songs that range from bouncing glitch numbers like Mikael Stavostrand’s “+” (which has a quasi-techno rhythm composed of some clicks, some cuts, some synth stabs and other digital FX, but doesn’t really have a beat, as the sounds speed up and slow down in various, unrhythmical ways) to warbling experiments like Komet’s “Lag” (which puts glitches and other synth and FX sounds in the background and foregrounds a repetitive dub hiccup) to ultra-minimal epics like Richard Chartier’s “010101” (which is about 10 minutes of silence, with only the hidden trace of sound floating in the nether-background of the track at various intervals). The latter song is actually an amazing work, despite its heavy-duty minimalism. Yes, most of the song is silent, but the sounds that show up are so faint that you’re not even sure they are coming from the song or from the incidental sounds around you. You start to focus on hearing – something? Nothing? It’s not clear. But no, the sound is there; it’s just so faint it magnifies the silence itself, forcing you to hear that silence differently (in the very best John Cage tradition).

The music here is challenging, to be sure. But it’s also an example of the best kind of electronic music out there today – music that is unwilling to be anything other than itself, artists who recognize music as a process, not an end result, and labels willing and eager to give these artists and this music a larger forum. There’s actually not a bad track among the 19 tracks that span these two disks – and that’s something rare, especially with compilations. If you have never heard a 12k release, then pick this disk up, as it compiles some of the best work released on the label, including work by such stalwarths as Kim Cascone, Deupree, Abrams, Komet, and others. If you have all the 12k music already, pick this up because it is a great introduction to the Line label and its heavy-duty experimentation from artists like Chartier, Bernhard Gunter, and Miki Yui. Despite what others might say about minimalism in general, this is listenable music; it is simple and certainly abstract, but those are *good* qualities–qualities that separate this music from everything else out there. It might not be music to dance to or jog to, but it’s ideal music to study to, to read to, to think to, to sleep to, and to dream to. – Michael Heumann

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