Various Artists, lowercase-sound 2002

Bremsstrahlung Recordings
Released: 2002


Minimalist artist Steve Roden coined the term "lowercase" to describe a particular style of music he was making a few years ago. In an interview for a Berkeley journal, Roden notes, "lowercase is about a work that sits quietly awaiting discovery, as opposed to loudly calling attention to itself." In other words, "lowercase" music isn't so much about particular sounds or particular musical styles as it is about attitude: creating music that is unassuming, that exists in order for listeners to discover and appreciate it.

Well, a lot of listeners have discovered this music, and many more critics have taken to the concept of "lowercase" music as a way to describe the kinds of ethereal, abstract recordings that make up the bulk of the releases on such esteemed labels as Line, 3 Particles, and Trente Oiseaux. I'm not really sure whether Roden is pleased that his attitude is now a genre, but at least he can take solace in the fact that most of the actual musicians who create so-called "lowercase" music do it not to copy Roden but to further their own aesthetic designs.

And that takes us to lowercase-sound 2002, a compilation that is as good as any compilation I've ever heard. It consists of 33 tracks by some of the finest electronic artists working today, including Dan Abrams, Kim Cascone, Taylor Deupree, Tetsu Inoue, Francisco Lopez, Akira Rabelais, Michael Schumacher, and Otaku Yakuza.

Disk one of this two disk set is subtitled "[dot]," and it is composed of 17 field recordings of the more esoteric sounds that give shape to our world. One of the more interesting tracks is "100:200111 Torrey Pines Outer Buoy" by Bob L. Sturm. Torrey Pines is a beach near San Diego, but this recording was taken from a buoy about 12 km from the shore during November 2001. The buoy monitored wave conditions using Fourier transforms. This work literally sounds like an underwater expedition as it bobs beneath waves, never coming up for air. Other notable tracks include Matt Shoemaker's "Charm," which sounds like a monster shot of that demon kid in The Exorcist; James Lescalleet's "The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics," which sound just about what you'd expect it to sound likeÑcold and probing; and Animist Orchestra's "4/7/01," which sounds like someone eating a breakfast of nails and leaves. What makes field recordings interesting is the simple fact that the sounds are unfiltered slices of our world. It's amazing what we don't hear, and these tracks all give shape and focus to the kinds of sounds we normally ignore. Fantastic.

Disk two, subtitled "=," is composed of computer-based compositions that span the gamut of experimental electronic styles, from Francisco Lopez's almost silent "Untitled #118" to the fluttering wisps of feedback in Stephan Mathieu's "Flake" to the infinitesimal clicks of Immedia's "-(2)" to Dan Abrams' backwards masking, beautiful, droning "Feature" to the elves playing polka with a banjo medley of Michael Schumacher's "0." It's an amazing array of tracks, each one more interesting and more enjoyable than the last.

I bought this collection about five days before I went on a vacation to Hawaii. I spent much of my time in Hawaii listening to this music and gazing out at a view that included two dead volcanoes, several ancient lava flows, pockets of lush tropical paradises, and more ocean views than anyone has a right to experience in one place. lowercase-sound 2002 fit right in, almost as if it were the soundtrack to the islandÑa place that is continually growing, transforming, and mutating into something new, something wonderful. Experimental electronic music rarely gets more interesting or more enjoyable than this.

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