Review of Optimal.LP [12k1005]

Urban Sounds (US)

Shuttle358 is the nom de disque of computer music composer Dan Abrams, and his recent Optimal.lp is all kinds of firsts. To start with, it’s the first release on Taylor Duepree’s 12k label not by, or in collaboration with, Deupree himself. It’s also Abrams’ first full-length release — the LP follow-up to his appearance on the 12k new-artist sampler .aiff. It’s the latter fact, combined with the next, that makes the album so astounding; Optimal.lp is one of the first instances of properly digital ambient that manages to balance the deep atmospheres of classic artists such as David Parsons, Robert Rich, and Brian Eno, with the recent hard disk malapropisms of Oval, Terre Thaemlitz, and Ryoji Ikeda, among others. Though Abrams’ aesthetic can only be said to derive from these sources secondarily — true to form, he’s professed to little knowledge of them — the effect is the same. Fusing warm, deep, enveloping synthetic textures with deliciously subtle digital fizzing and futzing, optimal.lp reinvents ambient as a music of place by shifting its context back, where it belongs, into the now — the surging bitstream, for example, or the microscopic chipsets of the personal computer. Rather than regurgitate its contents, however, optimal.lp invokes the particularity of the evolving digital lifeworld by tapping into its peculiar hum, magnifying the specks of dust that cloud and cluster among the cleanroom components and finding in them a new kind of beauty.

The track titles tell part of the story — “Next,” “System,” “Tank,” “Slowly, In Refrigerated Environments” are meticulous and exacting. “Swarm,” the lead track, pulls slowly together from alternating patterns of muted beeps and cycling static into a vast, undulating ecosystem of sound, with simple melodic figures providing a kind of optional point of relaxed concentration from which departures might be chartered. “Next” is a brief study in glitch, the textural properties of a single, unoccupied sound atom the basis for uncanny exploration. .aiff‘s “Gone” makes another appearance; having heard the track so many times on the compilation, it’s a little jarring to hear it in another context, but it fits right in — it remains one of Abrams’ most inspired moments. As does the enchanting, onomatopoeic “Floops,” which pairs a clean, delicate, slow-motion synth pattern with swelling tone-drones and spare, percussive texture-melodies that stutter about like the silvery perambulations of some just-hatched artificial lifeform. If classic ambient was a soundtrack to joss sticks and subjective introspection (which, of course, it wasn’t), Optimal.lp‘s backdrop is the agitated LED-spray of your digital EQ, the dance of pixels across a screen too vast to see in its entirety, but no less absorbing in fragment. Rating: 8 – sean cooper

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