Somnambule - Writing About Music

si-cut.db and Full Swing/vs. Stephan Mathieu und Douglas Benford

“BiP-Hop in asociation with Fållt are pleased to present Reciprocess + /vs. A series of two split CDs featuring the work/s of two sound assemblers and documenting the process of musical reciprocality between them. This second instalment features two composers contributing a series of collaborative, independent and remixed works.”

But don’t let that put you off. It’s difficult to decipher who the artists’ names/monikers are, what the title of the cd is and difficult to get a sense of collaboration from the music. The track titles bear the gnomic air of adumbration, as if forced to meet the requirements of a particularly severe operating system. All of this is of course par for the course for much contemporary electronica, as initiated by Warp and Autechre.

Bip-hop and Fållt are two major conductors on a global circuit (board), a vast distributed network of processors whose inputs and outputs are obscured, but whose calculations are audible through countless releases. Desplesamentos (Brazil), Dissonanze (Italy), Mutek (Canada): the very portability and relative cheapness of the laptop deployed as musical instrument supports the global propagation via the festival round. At any moment it seems as though these quiet, frequently anonymous operatives might infect all other musics virus-like and render them inoperable.

Electronica is perhaps the new jazz, its breadth and subtle distinctions as intimidating and puzzling as the catalogues of Blue Note, Impulse! and their like were to the budding crew-necked initiate. If such a novice were blindfolded and pointed at a room full of electronica artists, bumping into si-cut.db and Full Swing would be as fine an introduction as any.

At first listening the soundscape of this release may appear forbidding and cerebral – which impression may be attributed to the beatlessness of the first 24 minutes, but close attention leads to fascination. There’s the hiss of white noise, synthetic sounds like tapping tupperware lids, passages which feel like slipping down digital screes, polygonal shale ricocheting away from angular feet, the sound of ballbearings falling from overturned bagatelles, the satisfying whumpf of reversed bass impacts, the ringing of massed tibetan bells caught in fractal timeloops, lathes rasping on metal, electric sanders burring rough edges away.

In the context of the severe graphic design and obscure titling which accompanies this release it seems as though such allusions might be unwelcome. Sentiments such as love and hate and other grist to the mill of traditional musicmaking generally appear only as the echos of exorcised ghosts in electronica, the funk of bodies an almost forgotten memory. However, the music on this release betrays a distinct beauty. Douglas Benford writes in the liner notes of “… seeking to devolve and simplify [his own sound], whilst leaving an emotional content.” In this he and Stephan Mathieu succeed admirably, the only hesitation being the trappings of the genre within which the collaboration takes place, which seem to belie or hinder this impulse, although a gentle humour does seem apparent in some of the titles - flurry.gardening anyone?
Colin Buttimer
October 2003
Published by the BBC