The Musicorium

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Archive for June, 2010

SHE

Posted by Fionn on June 4, 2010

First of all, many thanks to the guys at the Musicorium for having me on here. For my first post, I want to recommend a really pleasant discovery I’ve made in stages over the last year. I’ve been progressively more interested in the chiptune scene on the net, and I think it’s one of the best examples of a music community with a real indie-web ethos, and a genre whose inception demonstrates the genuine creative strengths on the internet. I’ve found it to be a brilliant counterexample to the common music industry notion that without monetary incentive, there is no quality selection, and nothing of any value is produced. The genre is hyperinnovative and thriving. There are some seriously talented musicians involved in it. And most of the music is free to download, with a voluntary donation ethic for remuneration.

Many chiptune musicians are quite diverse, and their work is a rainbow of electronic genres. One such artist is She. She is a Swedish electronic outfit signed to the Japanese label Pony Canyon. There is one official member: Lain Trzaska, who is, despite the name of the band, male. Various (mostly female) vocalists have performed on his records however.

She has one excellent straightforward chiptune album, Pioneer – an exhilarating gameboy-rave album with souped up industrial beats, and atmospheric production. Some of She’s more interesting stuff incorporates a chiptune aesthetic into more mainstream sorts of electronic music. This makes for a highly varied discography which is nonetheless unmistakably the work of a single person.

A common aesthetic runs throughout she’s work. Unapologetically synthy, and heavily produced, the tracks modulate through the classic dance music chord progressions for catchy, plucky tunes, but there is so much going on! Lain manages to create intricate arrangements, where a highly rhythmic combination of instruments overwhelm the listener – more of an aural overload even than outfits like Crystal Castles.

Some of his latest releases Orion and Coloris (these are official releases from she, and are the only ones that must be purchased from iTunes, but I thoroughly recommend them) have the influence of acts like Daft Punk written all over them, but the result is more interesting. No compromise is made in terms of dancefloor appeal, or pop sensibility, but common themes of she’s music shine through: an obsession with all things Japanese and all things futuristic. The tracks also career through various forms of aural manipulation, with sourced japanese phrases and voiceovers, and random atmospheric noise. The initial impression is of turning a radio dial, and listening to broadcasts of excellent dance music from the nightclubs of neoTokyo. And I really can’t emphasize how phat some of the tunes are. There really isn’t another word for it.

I should also mention that she is a multi-instrumentalist, and includes some rather tasteful and skilled analog instruments on his tracks, from the snatches of classical piano on days, to the slap-bass funk of touch and go, to the distorted licks of guitar splashed across his work, notably on fuse. Brilliantly, though, the chips are asked to do the really impressive solo work. It’s amazing how much soul can be gotten out of a Commodore SID chip.

Enough talking. Here are some highlight tracks from perhaps the most immediately accessible records, Coloris and Orion. Do make sure to turn up your speakers, and consider buying these records, just for the higher definition audio.

Coloris

Fuse

Computer Music

autumn in space

The freely downloadable album, chiptek is a good example of this part of she’s corpus, if you want to listen to it before you need more in a similar vein. Here’s a track off that:

supersonic [HD]

Music

Finally, I will say something about the fact that many of she’s albums have quite expansive concepts behind them, with extensive artwork and even backstories to them, all of which are augmented by the snatches of speech and SFX heard during the tracks. Perhaps the most conceptual of she’s stuff, the Days album, is a collection of ambient industrial tracks, which languish as downtempo mood pieces, or which pulsate and rise out of brooding dark atmospheric noise and low synth pads to build into an orchestrated breakbeat crescendo only to vapourize before they have established, sometimes collapsing into simulated CD skipping, leaving you craving more. All this against a background of ominous science fiction themed pronouncements in English and Japanese. It’s really awesome stuff. And there’s quite a story to go along with it. So if you like your electronic music serious, and with a bit of depth, try this out. The sequel, Nights, is in progress!
Day 9
Day 5
Day 11

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Live from Movement/DEMF: Day Three

Posted by SP on June 1, 2010

Day three began with lighting and thunder.  Storms worked their way across the state in the early part of the afternoon and it rained throughout the day.  Far from ruining the festival though, the rain brought cloud cover and cooler breezes that washed away a lot of the previous two days’ pressure and aggressive energy.  We started late and got there just in time to see the end of Francesco Tristano’s set:

Tristano is from Luxembourg. I hadn’t known his music before, but if I had I would have made sure to see the whole thing.  Beautiful stuff.  The reason we were there though was to catch the Moritz von Oswald Trio.  Mortiz is one half of Rhythm & Sound/ Basic Channel, the other half of which is Mark Ernestus. Ernestus had done the dub reggae set that I mentioned in the post on day one.  The Trio was joined by Carl Craig for the set and did an absolutely beautiful hour of minimal, layered, hypnotic music.  Probably this stuff is a little abstract for many, but it was absolutely beautiful while the clouds rolled by and gulls wheeled over the river on the gusts of wind that trailed in the wake of the morning’s storms.  The set was interrupted by a power outage for about five minutes, but it was still lovely:

After starting the morning off with art it was time to go to a party, so it was over to the Beatport stage to hear French berserkers dOP.  Where the trio had been mellow and artistic, dOP were all out throwing down.  They had the crowd up on the stage with them, were drinking, pulling up girls from the audience and dancing with them, and absolutely everybody was shaking it. The MC worked the crowd masterfully, and the music was truly off the chain: imagine techno dance beats combined with New Orleans-style party jazz instrumental components and you pretty much have the idea. Insane, but great fun:

Having learned our lesson about festival attrition on day two we took a dinner break away from the festival in more comfortable surroundings.  Then we returned for the evening sets.

I had wanted to catch at least some of the set by German duo Booka Shade

but it was absolutely packed and for good reason.  What we did see was an excellent performance.  It was too hot though, too packed, and too full of drunks so we went to the Movement Torino stage to check out Italian Mauro Picotto instead:

Picotto’s skills as a DJ are excellent.  Everything that was missing from the day two sets he brought in spades.  His set was very up-tempo, well paced, well managed and kept the crowd on the floor.  That’s harder to do than it sounds, as I learned this weekend rather graphically, so it was a real pleasure to see someone getting it right.

The big draw of the evening was Model 500, brainchild of Detroit techno originator Juan Atkins.  I’d never seen Atkins before and was expecting something good but fairly ordinary in terms of presentation.  Most DJs don’t really incorporate much of a visual effect outside of (usually dispensable) graphics projected on a screen behind them–if even that.  Atkins was a whole other thing.  The set started with as much smoke as I’ve ever seen at any rock show, and when it cleared the Model 500 guys were standing there in Star Trek-looking outfits.  In addition to classic tracks like future (see below), he played some newer tracks with a vocalist and one with a rapper (Nick Speed).  These were not as impressive as you might think however, and came off as being somewhat experimental.  That said, it was an interesting set, if for no other reason than to get to hear stuff like this echoing off the buildings on Jefferson Avenue:

The experimental nature of Atkins set made it somewhat wearing, so we wandered around a bit to see the last acts at the other stages and wound up closing the festival at German Chris Liebing’s set.  It was a really good set, a lot like Picotto’s but more dub-influenced.  Liebing ended the last track by pitch-shifting the last note of the last track into a long, horrific bass note that felt like it was microwaving your kidneys.  It was one of those things you either love or don’t.  I think I was the only one in the ‘don’t’ column in my group, but hey, it was still a pretty good set:

That was DEMF 2010.  Day three made up for the shortcomings of days one and two, but to be fair the heat was a factor and I forgot my age those first two days.  What I will say is that I left the festival very impressed by the diversity of the music and the artistry of the people making it.  A lot of people write electronic music off as something that any talentless hack with a laptop can do, but that just ain’t so.  The only way you’re really going to know that though is if you see it done well, live, with a real human crowd. It’s a lot like jazz that way. There’s something like a quantum effect that happens in these shows, where the observations of the audience change what happens on stage, and what’s on stage produces a reciprocal effect in the audience.  When it comes off it is a beautiful thing.  And the music is beautiful in its own right too. It takes real skill to do this stuff, and if you listen with trained ears, know your way around the rhythmic ancestors of this music in Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean, and keep an open mind about it, you can be richly rewarded for your troubles.

Just stay hydrated.  And if you’re a guy, please keep your pants on for the duration of the performances.  Please.  That is all.

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