Review of Optimal.LP [12k1005]

The Wire (UK)

The all-on-one utility of the personal computer is evolving a new breed of software musicians/artists whose only contact with a keyboard is the one their mouse is connected to. Born into screen consciousness and completely at home in the abstract creative space of binary code, these are the true bedroom geeks, the nerdy kids from down the road who whiled away their childhood in front of an amiga or an Atari or an Apple iie, goofing about with mods, adventure games and tracker music. Shuttle358’s Dan Abrams was probably one such kid.

The methods of digital composition are so second nature to him that his debut release on the new york-based computer music label 12k, exhibits the frank equanimity of someone who has spent years struggling to materialise the sounds in his head. Ostensibly ambient music, Optimal.lp combines the engulfing syntheic environments of early space musicians such as David Parsons and Robert Rich with conerns altogether contemporary: The digital glitches of hard disk disruptions explored by Terre Thaemlitz, Ryoji Ikeda, Christian Fennesz and others. Where those artists foreground digital production methods in the service of disjunction, however, Abrams is after a re-synthesis. Subtle and delicate, Optimal.lp’s lean, microscopic bitscapes return to the peculiar timbres of post-analogue sound an evocative sense of context and connection.

Abrams is a student of packaging at Los Angeles’s Art Centre College of Sesign, a fact reflected in the elegant simplicity and organisation of his music. Dashioned from essentially the same store of materials – thin drones, fm tones, sparking textures, mellifluous static – each of optimal.lp’s nine tracks is a slightly shifted perspective on a curiously diverse whole too vast to be taken in all at once. “Gone” and “Tank” are discrete manifestations in space, tab-and-slot constructions that reveal their logic in the process of disassembly. They’re also deceptively easy on the ears; Abrams is most impressive in his ability to make the rough textures of digital detritus so plainly musical.

Barely perceptible rhythms ripple the surface of a few of the tracks, as if the superabundance of electronic dance styles made anything more than a distant hi-hat fiture or an echoing kick pattern obvious and unnecessary. The connection is probably unintentional, however; Abrams’s spare beats work by diffraction, breaking up the space of the music to better distinguish its contours. Optimal.lp manages to elude genre from start to finish, employing a poverty of means notable in the context of hybrid-happy electonica. It is remarkable in its expressiveness. – Sean Cooper.

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