Various Artists, Inflation
A year or so ago, Japanese minimalist artist *0 (Nosei Sakata) released a disk on his own Mu-Label entitled 0.000. This release consists of two test tracks of 1,000 Hz sine waves and fifteen tracks of sine waves either below 20 Hz or above 20,000 Hz--that is, either below or above the audible threshold of human ears. In short, apart from the test tracks, the disk is silent. Sure, your dog can hear the songs, but you, the paying customer, cannot. What is the point of this disk? Some critics suggest (and I would agree) that the work simply takes minimalist electronic music to its inevitable conclusion: music so minimal that it cannot be heard. In fact, the liner notes to the release proudly proclaim this very point when they announce, "You cannot hear anything."
Ah, but proclaiming "you cannot hear anything" is not the same as saying that there is nothing to hear. To prove this, we have Inflation, a Mu-Label concept album where some of the most prominent artists on the minimal side of electronic music (Taylor Deupree, Bernhard Gunter, Merzbow, Richard Chartier, Aube) take the silent tracks on 0.000 and create "everything" out of "nothing." This is, in short, a remix album where the source material is inaudible and the artists must use these inaudible sounds to create audible music.
This is, without a doubt, the ultimate in concept albums, a work whose primary existence is to prove that computer software has reached the point where any sound (even inaudible sounds) can be used as the basis for any kind of musical experiment your mind can concoct. Of course, just because you can create music out of nothing doesn't mean you should. Lucky for us, however, the artists represented on Inflation have taken this experiment seriously, and the results here are, by and large, excellent. What is most impressive about the work is how many ways these artists have found to transform both the silence of *0's work and the simple sine waves of each track, creating musically inventive, musically rewarding works that you not only can hear but want to.
The individual tracks span the gamut of minimal electronic music, from silence to noise, from rhythm to atmospherics, from Zbigniew Karkowski's noise-orgy "S.R.I.-Top Secret" to Bernhard Gunter's only marginally audible "00.09.57.046 (For Richard Chartier)," from the digital randomization of /0's "Inflation" to the digital rhythms of Taylor Deupree's "/.///." Despite this variety, there is a common thread that weaves its way through these individual tracks: each track seeks to create something out of very little. Hence, even the noisy tracks are noisy in very sparse (or simple) ways. As a result, some of the noisier tracks are not really that interesting. It is on the more atmospheric tracks where this release comes alive. Perhaps the best example of this is Richard Chartier's "000.0/01." Chartier's music is closest aesthetically to the music on the original 0.000; he generally creates epics of sweeping inaudibility, where the sounds are so faint and so difficult to decipher above the hums of stereos or computers that the act of listening to his music is often a difficult chore. Chartier's work on Inflation follows this pattern--there are stretches of silence, stretches of almost inaudible hums, stretches of silence intermittently interrupted with clicks or bleeps, and stretches of hums interrupted with silence, clicks, bleeps, and even more silence. But the work as a whole is a perfect summation of the very ideas proposed by minimal art: taking the bare minimum of sounds and reworking them to create something interesting, challenging, and rewarding. Listening to Chartier's work is like listening to your own mind process the sounds of everyday life. We don't normally listen to the world around us because we're so used to it. Chartier's hums and blips and silences, however, call attention to that sound, and force us to perceive that sound in a new, more interesting context. "000.0/01" might be the best thing Chartier has ever created.
If I can cull any sort of pattern onto this two-CD compilation, I would say that the first disk--featuring Merzbow, Deupree, Kim Cascone, and Aube--is louder and more focused on rhythm, and the second disk--featuring Chartier, Gunter, Steve Roden, and a six second track of silence from *0 himself--is softer and more focused on atmospherics. I prefer the second disk, if only because I like atmospherics more than noise, but both disks are filled with excellent, intelligent, and rewarding music.
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