Thursday, 5 January 2017

Villalobos - Alcachofa (2003)

Here's another one which sounds all new fangled and fancy to me (assuming my ear trumpet is functioning correctly) and yet which came out thirteen fucking years ago; so this review will once again feature my fifteen-year old self trying to tell everyone about the amazing way out sound of Procol Harum. Well, maybe it's not quite that. I can hardly be expected to keep track of absolutely everything, musically speaking, and I'd have to wade through one hell of a lot of shite to do so. It hardly seems worth it.

Anyway, trying to decide on my next Scientist purchase, I noticed the lad had recorded an album with some dubstep dude called Shackleton. The name intrigued me because that's also the surname of my cousin, and then YouTube suggested I have a listen to Shackleton's Blood On My Hands, so I did. The track was fucking phenomenal so I investigated further, but found most of his work a bit dull and overly reliant on the conceit of Gregorian chants as powerfully atmospheric - as opposed to just a bit obvious when heard on any record other than one with a picture of a monastery on the cover. Close inspection revealed that the fucking phenomenality of Blood On My Hands was due to it having been remixed by one Ricardo Villalobos, so then I listened to Dexter by Villalobos, which seemed similarly fucking phenomenal and here we are.

My first brush with what I understand to be minimal techno was Anton Nikkilä's Formalist which I reviewed in an issue of Sound Projector back in 1999. I didn't like it very much:

The sounds and structures suggest this has evolved from dance music, just as Rachel Whiteread's art has evolved from art which could be enjoyed by folk who aren't smart-arsed post-modern sperm swallowers. This is not the sort of techno one might describe as bangin', or indeed be tempted to have it large to. Formalist as the title suggests, is somewhat sparse, and sounds to be entirely computer generated. Most of the sounds are essentially percussive, and oddly inappropriate. The only thing that defines the weedy pencil-banged-on-the-edge-of-a-table sound as a snare is where it occurs. The bass drum sounds aren't particularly bassy. Some of the rhythms had me checking to see if the CD was skipping. It wasn't. This was how it was supposed to be. Even those tracks which don't sound like the aural equivalent to a festival of experimental animation shorts from Canada, fare only marginally better.

Leaving aside my own somewhat boorish testimony, I'm sure it really can't have been that bad. In any case, Alcachofa seems to be what Anton Nikkilä should have sounded like, possibly.

We're now deep into the territory of sound with no acoustic point of origin, or at least which has been edited beyond recognition. Some of what can be heard on this disc may have come from something once labelled snare or hi-hat, but it's hard to say for sure. The sound is roughly like something audio editing software might dream about, sonic offcuts and slivers of signals tastefully arranged, tonal qualities emphasised, with graphic EQ deployed as an instrument in its own right. The repetition is intense and focus is drawn so fiercely to certain aspects of the composition as to fool the ear into missing everything else. It sounds minimal and a little dry, but the fifth or sixth listen will nevertheless reveal tiny hitherto unnoticed details. Approximations of melody come from combinations of dubiously musical sources repeated until something takes form, ticking and clicking on and on until the organic-digital divide comes to seem meaningless.

It's bollocks, but that's the best I can do. This music genuinely defies description, or at least my description. I'm not sure I've ever heard anything so weirdly abstract carry off such a compelling impersonation of banging dance floor populism.

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