Insomnia-filled nights get me to thinkin’ about all sorts of random things. Tonight’s few hours of attempted-but-failed sleep got me on a nostalgic kick, thinking back to days of high school when my best buddy Jesse LeBus and I published a short-lived scandal sheet called The Recidivist (named for a Bastro song, natch). It only really lasted maybe one issue, and I vaguely recall it being a broadside against our high school administration’s perceived hypocracies — nevermind the fact that we were using the school’s computers to edit and publish the dang thing. Ah, the folly of youth. We got in some minor trouble (if that? I don’t recall much), and the whole thing blew over. Maybe if we had stuck with it, or had developed a sense of tact, we could’ve made it into a school paper-y thing, complete with stories and cultural reportage of the day (perhaps an essay or two on how Pearl Jam blows, dude?). But we never were ones for sticking with anything.
At some point in the early morning hours, as the birds started a-chirpin’, I started thinking of another, more worthy snapshot of a place and time even longer gone, that of Mr. Tom Johnson‘s excellent book, The Voice of New Music, a collection of his music criticism that was originally published in the Village Voice from 1972 to 1982 (you can download the whole shebang here — ain’t the internet wonderful?). I read this worthy tome when an undergrad, workin’ on some Tony Conrad stuff, and this book was an incredible resource not only on the specifics of the changes that were taking place in the downtown NYC snooty music scene, but also of a general cultural context that’s sorta disappeared (even if I’d bet more people listen to weird music now more than they did back then).
Big whoop, sez you. All right, all right, so here’s the point: instead of trying to recreate some old feelings about music and cultural what-have-you that would just about be impossible, I thought I’d start a new thing on this blog dedicated to looking back at some music I probably haven’t listened to in a long time, and in the process I hope to share some ideas about the music, the time in which I first experienced it (and how), and just whatever other random stuff may bubble up to the surface. So here goes, episode one of Recidivist…
Autechre, Chiastic Slide (Warp)
Thomas Brinkmann, Klick (max.E.)
Funnily enough, I’ll begin the first installment with two records that have nothing to do with either my high school or college years, unlike the reminiscences that inspired this series. Though I certainly knew of and enjoyed many records on the esteemed Warp label through my college years, it probably wasn’t until I picked up Autechre‘s Chiastic Slide sometime in the summer of 1998 (though it was released in 1997) that everything started to, uh, click (no pun intended). I was a fan of their previous records Amber and Tri Repetae, but Chiastic Slide was the one, maaaaan. Listening to it again last night while reading Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, I was struck by how structurally this record fit with Kundera’s idea of the novel as an exploration of variations. That is, his novel consists of seemingly unrelated episodes which form a coherent summation of his once-an-insider, now-an-outsider-looking-in perspective on the totalitarian regimes of Central Europe in the 1970s.
Now, this connection isn’t explicit by any means. There’s nothing in Autechre’s music that suggests anything similar, thematically, to Kundera. There’s no politics, no laughter, nothing really even that “human.” What I mean is that Chiastic Slide takes some pretty distinct elements and fuses them into studied variations. And like Kundera is compelling to read (I finished The Book of Laughter and Forgetting pretty quickly, granted it’s short), Autechre hit upon what I think was the beginning of an incredible run of densely packed, seemingly-random-yet-not albums filled with intense variation. As Kundera writes about his father’s love of Beethoven’s later variations (Kundera’s father was a composer and teacher who studied with Janacek, btw), I couldn’t help but make the connection to what I was hearing while I was reading.
So Chiastic Slide: it’s a killer album, packed with crunchy, distorted tempos; the detritus of their soon-to-be-abandoned rote-techno melodies (which were generally more off-kilter than a lot of their IDM contemporaries anyway); and a lot of variation. Take one theme, expand on it until it’s worn down to a nub, then add something else in. It’s brilliant, and at the time it sounded FANTASTIC booming out of my car stereo (and it’d prompt some pretty funny looks, too). By the time I finally got to see Autechre (with Russell Haswell and Kevin Drumm!) at the Metro in 2001 (see photo below, swiped from Warp), I’d already moved on to more minimal moves…
At some point in 2000 or 2001, I can’t remember which, Jim Magas opened the long-gone (and sorely missed) Weekend Records and Soap in Wicker Park, a short walk from my pad down Division. I’d gotten increasingly into the more minimalist stuff coming out of Berlin and Koln (how, I don’t really recall, though I’m sure the less-austere Warp scene was somewhat of a gateway drug), and the location of Jim’s shop meant I could find stuff easily without having to run over to the always-annoying Clark Street corridor of Lincoln Park. Again, I don’t really recall, but I somehow got wind of what Thomas Brinkmann was doing, perhaps because it was similar — though different — from a lot of the other Profan/Studio 1/Kompakt axis (er…) around Mike Ink.
What I heard of Brinkmann was compelling, hard yet super-minimal techno of a sort that (at the time) wouldn’t have gone over at Chicago’s dance clubs AT ALL (indeed, the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink nights that Brandon Goodall, Greg Davis and occasionally Kevin Drumm and I’d do around town weren’t well received — and we were far more accessible despite eclecticism than the minimalist stuff), and I was intrigued. Jim would stock EVERYTHING in Weekend, and within the limits of what I could spend, I’d buy pretty much all of it. So imagine my surprise when, after far more straightforward “first-name” 12″s and Studio One releases, Brinkmann releases the Klick 12″ (to be fair he also released more abstract-y Esther Brinkmann stuff, but that was harder to find), followed by the Klick full-length. The methodology behind this new phase was simply described:
10 tracks made with two decks, an isolator, a mixer and some with a tc multieffect. About 15 endless groves, cut with a knife in the last groove of vinyl records, some voices from records as well, and feedbacks are the sound sources. The loops are cut between 1978 and 2000 like the one on Suppose 08 (Feran Loop).
But what I’m hearing is a crazy amount of variation (that word again) on the theme of music-as-recording, a sort of meta-statement about the seeming finality of vinyl being a starting point for a new music. Yeah, yeah, sampling has been a part of music long before Brinkmann (even John Cage fooled around with turntables), but there was something about this record, coming from the context of the Berlin techno scene, that really was something special. And it’s also fun to guess a little bit as to where and what specific contexts it comes from. That is, the rhythms of these pieces get stuck in your brain almost like “regular” pop music (indeed, for some reason the sixth track “0110” reminds me of Can’s “I Want More”).
Download Klick here for a limited time.
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