Somnambule - Writing About Music

Ai Records Sampler

I’m reading ‘My Name Is Red’ by the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. The plot centres around the murder of an illustrator in the sixteenth century as told from a number of different perspectives. It’s challenging, playful and enjoyable. One of the book’s main themes is the idea that, from the Turkish/Islamic perspective originality was a sin against Allah. Consequently the Western art of individual portraiture was viewed as a sacrilegious and rather horrifying aberration. On the other hand, Lester Young the bebop jazz saxophonist wrote in 1946: "Originality should be the highest goal of art and life. Without [originality] or anything else worthwhile stagnates, eventually degenerates.......musicians wishing to play something really vital must learn to express their inner feelings with a minimum of outside influence." Later: "You've got to have a style all your own. A man can only be a stylist if he makes up his mind not to copy anybody." What’s this got to do with the Ai Records sampler? Because I’m struck by the fact that all of this sampler’s 16 tracks of electronica by 13 different artists are simultaneously enjoyable, but ultimately not strikingly individual. Is our Western craving for uniqueness merely deeply embedded materialism planted there by late-Capitalism? Does our carefully nurtured need for individualism make us any happier? Lester Young didn’t die a happy man and the characters in Pamuk’s novel are busy killing each other. Who knows.

I’ve been a subscriber to the IDM mailing list for a few years and every so often there’s a flurry of emails which mention names I’ve never heard of and I wonder whether I should seek out the music being discussed. This Ai sampler is an example. Read these names: Sofalofa. Sinner DC. Yellotone. 214. Pablo Dali. Tin-Tole-Lata. Praveen. Normal. Ascoltare. What do they say to you? Is there anything in a name? Who knows.

It’s very likely that the sampler format particularly with regard to electronica has a levelling effect – placing all of these different musicians side by side makes them sound more rather than less similar. I noticed this most with Mille Plateaux’s second Clicks and Cuts compilation where it was really, really difficult to tell the difference between artists. None of the tracks here dip below the level of consumately well produced, listenable and enjoyable, but none of them particularly stand out. Is that a problem? Who knows. You decide.
Colin Buttimer
February 2004
Published by Absorb