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"Hydro Theory"

A highly secretive project of Detroit techno musicians James Stinson and Gerald Donald, Drexciya was a concept band based on a constructed Afro-futurist mythology. The duo’s title referred to an imagined underwater civilization inhabited by the descendants of unborn children of African women who were thrown overboard from slave ships crossing the Atlantic. Their music, released primarily on a series of EPs beginning in the early 1990s, explores a shadowy and evocative world of sonic imagery, an alternate reality of techno music in which the genre’s upbeat dancefloor roots are mercilessly deracinated by throbbing waves of dark sonic energy. Drexciya ended with Stinson’s untimely death in 2002, but Donald has continued to produce music under such names as Arpanet and Dopplereffekt.

Source: The Journey Home (1995)

Played 1,289 time(s).

June 12, 2013, 11:04pm

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Susumu Yokota: “Kinoko”

From the album Acid Mt. Fuji (1994)

The music of Japanese composer and DJ Susumu Yokota represents a style that not too long ago I would have dismissed out of hand. It could be described as “ambient techno”: beat-oriented electronic music better suited to ambient listening than proper dancing. (Yokota is also an active house DJ and has also released a number of albums in that idiom.)

Having come around a bit not only on techno (witness my ongoing obsession with Charanjit Singh’s sublime Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat), but also on music conceived for background listening (helped in part by Joseph Lanza’s fine book Elevator Music), I now find much to appreciate in this peculiar genre of music. One of the nicest things is how it can happily occupy different positions on the spectrum of auditory attention: you can play it in the background as a pleasant an unobtrusive sonic wallpaper, but you can also listen intently and discover in certain tracks an unexpected wealth of musical detail. This very quality was one of the fundamental criteria of “ambient music" as theorized by its founder, Brian Eno in the late 1970s.

The defining characteristic of this music is the almost unremitting presence of the four-on-the-floor bass drum. On this foundation, the compositional technique typically consists of the layering of loops within a static tonal framework. In “Kinoko” (“Mushrooms”), this template unfolds slowly, beginning with a soundscape of birdsong underlaid with a deep filter-swept bass drone. What sounds like the Godzilla roar gives the scene a decidedly mesozoic air. An eerie ostinato on a synthesized bell-tone enters, followed shortly by a syncopated tom-tom. When the thumping bass drum makes its inevitable appearance several minutes in, the tableau is complete and the music can run its course. The overall sound-image is strikingly evocative, providing the listener with enough substance to feed the imagination, but not so much that the experience is emotionally overdetermined. 

Played 629 time(s).

August 30, 2012, 9:55pm

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Charanjit Singh: “Raga Madhuvanti”

From the album Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat (1983)

I’m famously ignorant when it comes to the history of beat-oriented electronic music—which is, after all, what most people mean when they talk about the genre. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the electro/techno wing of electronic music, even less that I dismiss it with Stockhausen-esque disdain (however valid some of his points may be). For whatever reason, I just haven’t absorbed the stylistic lineage, which is much more complicated than an outsider might guess, as shown by the exemplary Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music.

Still, in spite of my ignorance of the finer points of history and genre-development, I know what I like. And this album by the Bollywood session musician Charanjit Singh has absolutely blown my mind. 

Created using the cutting-edge technology of a Roland Jupiter-8 analog synthesizer, a TR-808 drum machine, and a TB-303 bass sequencer, Singh’s album is a visionary fusion of the sinuous melodic improvisations of Indian traditional music with the pulsing rhythms of electronic dance music. Though not entirely without precedent (the Italo-disco of Giorio Moroder is cited as a likely influence), Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat was a formative moment in the global development of techno. 

The album was re-released by the label Bombay-Connections in 2010.

Played 209 time(s).

September 15, 2011, 10:19am

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