Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
Back in college, I participated in a study (paid, so I could buy some beer) wherein more than a half-dozen electrodes were attached to my head and tiny probes were inserted into my ears. These probes emitted the most minute of clicks, buzzes and electronic tones, then registered what parts of my brain were activated by the sounds. It sounds like mad science, but at that time, I was also taken by a curious strain of sparse electronic music to where the experiment resembled a leisure activity. It was often referred to as “clicks’n’cuts” (though by its detractors or boosters, I know not) and some favorites included Pan Sonic’s Mike Vainio (under his Ø moniker), Alto Novo, Ryoji Ikeda, and most of the Mille Plateaux and Raster-Noton roster.
Soon those abstemious thrills gave way to more blatant aural delights, but minimalist and maximal trends wax and wane in the electronic music world. And gauging by a few new releases, the needle is again tipping towards the more austere, with Lichtenstein-like colors and Ed Ruscha pop stuffs giving way to Robert Irwin-esque starkness that instead accentuate tiny moments that might otherwise not be noticed (think of the slow-mo cam of the World Series, to where the drizzle at Tiger Stadium would convert and glimmer like tiny jewels). This is electronic music that instead draws attention to the very act of listening itself.
One of the main turn-of-the-century acts on the Mille Plateaux label were the duo SND, comprised of Mat Steel and Mark Fell, the latter of whom has had an even more prolific solo career of late. In 2012 alone, Fell released a slew of 12”s as Sensate Focus, with most of that material being slightly reworked for his sixth solo effort, Sentielle Objectif Actualité (on Austria’s Editions Mego label). On his website, Mark Fell claims to be neither a DJ nor a math teacher, which is a bit surprising since his tracks hover between four-on-the-floor and advanced calculus, with the numerical entries in his Sensate Focus series seemingly pertaining to the latent heat fusion of water. On the Editions Mego website, they list notes such as “hand claps are constructed from the Roland TR707 clap, two copies of which are detuned and panned hard left and right.” Elsewhere, references are made to some early ’90s house classics from Kerri Chandler, Chez Damier and Choo Ables’s “Hard to Get.” One won’t soon mistake the needling taps and fidgeting keys of Mark Fell’s “SOA-3” for Chez Damier’s “Can You Feel It” but there are flashes of the negative space that seem to inform Fell’s Spartan productions, so that when the warm pads bloom to life on “SOA-5,” they feel like a flood. Or perhaps it’s just ‘the latent heat fusion of water’ being achieved?
Of similar warmth are the synths that introduce Brazil-reared, Boston-based musician Richard Donoso’s second album on the Digitalis label, Assimilating the Shadow. They recall the soundscapes as conjured by the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never, Cleveland’s Emeralds, Tangerine Dream, or film director/composer John Carpenter. Most of the 10 tracks on Shadow evolve from low-key beginnings, usually a drone or throb. Arpeggiated synth layers soon accrue though and in the layering process, rhythms pulse to life, even though there are no drum machines to be gleaned. Donoso ever so carefully erects crystalline structures, has a bit of a sample embedded at a song’s core, and then elevates to even greater heights with another overlay of synths. There may not be greater geometric patterns to these mesmeric, writhing, squelchy productions, but titles like “Chemical Structures” and “Equivalence of the Thirteen” suggest that Donoso’s musical mind might be mathematical as well.
From the Emeralds camp, John Elliott’s Spectrum Spools label continues to unearth lost cosmic synth classics as well as contemporary gems, one of which comes from Eric Lanham. Lanham has primarily released his music via cassette under the name Carl Calm and as a member of Caboladies and Palmetto Moon Electronic Group, but The Sincere Interruption marks his first release under his own name. Crafted on digital sound modules like the Alesis QX49 and Elektron Octatrack, the tracks on The Sincere Interruption hew closer to a bracing ice bath than a foam party, more kin to the high frequencies of your internal nervous system rather than the onrush of ecstasy.
The tiniest of sound events can be felt in your skull while other times, the noise is overwhelming, but most are delivered as miniatures. And in small doses, the sounds of science can offer great thrills.