Freeform, Human

Released: 2002

It's been three years since I last listened to Freeform. That's not to say that Freeform (aka Simon Pyke) hasn't released any music in the intervening years; he has. In fact, he's released a LOT of music, including an album called Audio-Tourism (Vietnam/China). But I haven't heard that album. As I said, I haven't heard any Freeform since early 2000, and that includes the two albums of his that I own. Why is this? I'm not really sure. All I can say is, I haven't had the inclination. Pyke's music is inventive, filled with all sorts of weird, wooly sounds that tickle the ears, but it has never left a lasting impression. I listen, I enjoy, and I move on.

So why am I reviewing Freeform's latest, Human? To be honest, I only bought the thing because I was buying something else from MDOS and I hated the idea of ordering only one disk from a record store in Austria and having that single disk shipped out to the US (am I the only one who traumatizes over things like this when shopping online?). So the two disks arrived, and I listened to Human once, then again, and it suddenly hit me: this Simon Pyke is pretty clever. His music is unlike just about every other electronic artist I can think of. He builds songs, I've heard, largely out of field recordings he makes himself. Of course, lots of other artists work in this manner, but most of those artists are in the more esoteric side of electronic music, where a simple, 5-second recording of a rather interesting fart can be transformed into a 75-minute minimalist opus by, say, Francisco Lopez. By contrast, Pyke's music, while composed of field recordings of all sorts of cultures and environments, is nevertheless dance music, filled with beats and fractured melodies. He's an ethnomusicological Richard Devine.

Take "Nylon." It begins with a fluttering, sputtering beat that seems to be drugging itself awake, curling into some sort of Autechre-esque frenzy. Suddenly, the sounds of Balinese temple music emerge, along with a few gongs, some freaky Tibetan monk chants, a steel drum, and (out of nowhere) a cool bass line. This chaos dances around for about five minutes in various guises--the temple music dominating in snatches, the chants in others, while the original beats remain dominant throughout. It sounds like a mess, doesn't it? Well, it works. Somehow, some way, Pyke manages to keep everything together. It's a clever song, and there are 13 others equally clever, equally miraculous. I've listened to this work over the past week or so, and I've found myself repeatedly impressed the complexity and the listenability of this music. Pyke has truly created a "world music" album, since he seems to have culled together sounds from all over the world and fused them all into his image. It's a freaky album, but it's also a lot of fun.

Ah, but will the fun last? Will I be listening to this disk for the next three years, or even next month? The problem with fun music that wanders all over the place is that there's usually a limit, a point when "fun" becomes "familiar," and "familiar" turns "passe." The more I listen to this work, the more familiar I do become with its frantic nuances, so it's possible that I'll discard this work the way I did Me Shape and Green Park. What sets Human apart from those earlier works, however, is the sheer variety of sources he's culled together here, sources that, by themselves, are worth listening to, and, put together in this mix, manage to actually redefine a lot of those stale notions of "world music" or "traditional cultures" that are worthless in our wired world. So this might or might not be essential listening in 2006, but it's essential listening now, and it offers a perspective on music and sound that is as fresh, inventive, and as intelligent as intelligent dance music is likely to get.

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