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Various Artists
Or MD Comp
Reviewed by: Nick Phillips
Reviewed on: July 1, 2003\

From the frenetic digital splicing of the Mego label to Jean-Luc Godard's cut-and-paste film narratives to William S. Burrough's work with disjointed text edits, experimental art has long proved a fertile breeding ground for the aesthetics of disruption. Jarring discontinuities and oddball juxtapositions, if appropriately sliced-and-diced with artistic flair, offer a fascinating simulation of the frantic machinations of modern life - and provide the viewer or listener with a pleasant little mindfuck while they're at it.

Which, it appears, also works as a decent description of the modus operandi of Russell Haswell's Or label, which has long operated with blatant disregard to such niceties as stylistic continuity and release schedules. Previous releases have swerved in style from the "ambient metal" of Olympia, Washington's Earth (collected on Or, in typically obtuse fashion, as a live session pressed onto one-sided 12" vinyl) to the melted laptop screech of Farmers Manual's classic "Explorers We" to the minimal techno of Stuzpunkt Wien 12. Now, after a fairly long period of inactivity, Or has spluttered back to life with the long-delayed release of their second minidisc compilation, featuring the likes of Farmers Manual, Shirttrax, and Francisco Lopez. Except, to add the confusion, the compilation arrives in compact-disc format, apparently since the profusion of MP3 downloading has left minidiscs as the niche market for internet music surfers.

No matter, because unlike Or's first minidisc release by Gescom, which relied heavily on short loops brought to life by minidisc's shuffle mode, this compilation works confusingly enough in the linear format of the compact disc. Not too surprising for anything that bears the name of Viennese laptop group Farmers Manual, as anyone who's made it through the overwhelming irruptions of the "Recent Live Archive" DVD (featuring three days (!) worth of live MP3 recordings) can attest. This time around, however, Farmers Manual are the most cohesive of the bunch, kicking off the proceedings with the surprisingly ear-pleasingly burbles of "kTXt-1.sinemerge2" before getting down-and-dirty with the distorted reverberations of "'. At two minutes apiece, it's a sweet little capsule introduction to the digital hyperactivity dominating the compilation; one that's let down only slightly by Francisco Lopez's following "Untitled #101," a surprisingly weak piece that splices together ambient environmental recordings with pinging sinewaves without any of the concision and attention to detail that usually mark Lopez's work.

Things get back on track with Shirttrax, nom-de-disque of snd's Mark Fell in collaboration with Jeremy Potter, who offer seven remixes of their own "Good News About Space." The concise, rhythmic minimalism of their previous work is here refined with emphasis on a kind of pointillist textural experimentation that yields surprisingly refreshing results, bringing to mind a more restrained take on the digi-crackle of Pita's "Seven Tons for Free." Sequenced together, the seven track flow together seamlessly to form an impressively prismatic rethinking of the original track. Gescom, on the other hand, abandon rhythm altogether in favor of billowing clouds of dense, granulated sound cohering around the spectral traces of a dusty synth loop: the echoic, near-industrial results neatly triangulate restless experimentalism with the emotional tug of its haunted melodies.

And then it's so long to the restraint: as befits anything bearing the stamp of Russell Haswell (whose own Live Salvage disc on Mego throws up a savage bout of lo-fi laptop distortion), the last half of the disc is given over to good old-fashioned noise, though admittedly of the new-fangled digital variety. Elusive Japanese duo Incapacitants provide a ten-minute mix of "electronics and voice," though both are processed down to such a molten scree that it's hard to uncover any trace of these original elements. And MAZK (the duo of Zbigniew Karkowski and Merzbow) lay down more of the same, plying a scuffed, throbbing drone with shards of digital debris in a manner reminiscent of the Haswell/Merzbow recordings as Satanstornade. Much like any other noise recording, if you like this kind of stuff, you'll love these tracks, but there's not much here to welcome the non-enthusiast. The same, however, can not be said for the contributions of Florian Hecker, who may well be the most exciting person working in experimental electronics at the moment. While his compilation of eight short shock-tactic recordings were obviously, unlike the others, designed with the minidisc format in mind, they work perfectly in continuous play, offering a continuously evolving and consistently engaging assortment of micro-edited digital filaments. Like his mindblowing Sun Pand㬯nium release on Mego, Hecker's ear for the hyperspeed cut-and-paste makes for wonderfully vibrant music, at once humorous, alert and brutally ear-piercing. Xenakis, once again, would be proud.

Topping Hecker's micro-masterpieces would be a pretty daunting problem, one the compilation cleverly avoids by bringing the compilation to an amusing anticlimax with two rather pointless live recordings by Farmers Manual, in which the pops and crackles onstage are drowned out by the drunk ramblings of a raver repeatedly exhorting the group to "get a fucking bassline!" The perfect ending to a perfect mish-mash, really. For those who appreciate their heads being smacked around by their music every once in a while, this is essential listening.

David Day :: Publicity // Forced Exposure// 226 Lowell St. Somerville, MA 02144-2638 // // // 617.629.4773

-- HiazHhzz - 03 Jul 2003


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