Taylor Deupree + Christopher Willits, Mujo
Both Deupree and Willits are intelligent, inventive artists working in the more experimental side of experimental electronic music. However, like all artists, they have their strengths and weaknesses. Willits' true strength is his guitar prowess and his keen ability to play the guitar as though he were digitally editing himself each time he plucks a string. Listen to his work on the 12k compilation E*A*D*G*B*E, especially the complex textures that build up on "The Baroque Machine," and you'll know what I'm talking about. Willits' music is less engaging when the guitar sounds disappear into a sea of digital noise, as happens on the same album's "Champagne and Soda." Here, the very thing that makes his work so unique is displaced by digital fragments that sound like a whole host of other artists' manipulations.
Deupree, by contrast, has an exceptional ear for creating melodies and esoteric atmospherics. Listen to his reinterpretation of Kenneth Kirchner's piano work on Post Piano, especially the way in which he manages to combine both the unprocessed sounds of piano notes with the heavily processed fragments of notes to create something wholly unique from Kirchner's original. If Deupree's music can be faulted for anything (and this is arguable), it's that his melodies can often seem a bit dry and repetitive, especially when the source material is not as rich as Kirchner's piano or (and here's where I finally come to my point) Willits' guitar work.
To my ears, then, Deupree and Willits complement each other beautifully. Willits provides his wonderful, crinkly, shimmering guitar licks, while Deupree takes those guitar sounds and transforms them into wonderful sonic landscapes. Of course, Mujo isn't as simplistic as all that, for Willits did some of the editing and sonic manipulation, too, while Deupree (I'm guessing) threw in his share of source material (the liner notes mention the use of synthesizers, kyma, accordion, and melodica, along with guitar, computer, max/msp/jitter). But the core of the album is still Willits' guitar and Depuree's computer experiments, and it's these two things that make this album so immensely pleasurable.
Mujo begins with an electronic guitar melody, which slowly adds tiny digital fragments, a smattering of tiny rings and tweeps chiming in the background. I like the fact that the little tweeps actually sound like the echoes of Willits' intricate guitar notes, only slightly frozen and slightly stretched out of proportion. Soon after this first track, however, the guitar sounds fade into the background and what remains is...memorable. That's really the only way I can describe it. From the second track on, I did not care what sound was processed from what; I only cared about the music as a composite whole, and I listened and examined my own reactions to these sounds, not the ways that the sounds were put together. That's the point of music, isn't it? Shouldn't music work only when we forget that it's music, just like a movie works only when we forget we are in an audience watching actors play dress up? As a critic and someone who seriously examines all different kinds of music, I'm often amazed how little time I spend simply enjoying songs. When it happens, I marvel at how wonderful music can be, as though this were the first time music had ever touched me. Well, that happened when I listened to this album for the first time, and it's happening right now, as I write this, listening to it for the twentieth or thirtieth time. The music simply draws me in, forces me to forget what I'm writing and to just react. Early on, I feel like bouncing, like Tigger; then I feel like I'm riding in a boat on a windy day, the waves bobbing us up and down as I hang on tight, waiting to be knocked overboard; then, towards the end, I feel like I'm drunk and dizzy, staggering around, wondering where am and hoping I can find some place to fall asleep. And then there's the last track, "Newspaper," which seems like a paean to those Mike Watt track on Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, where someone calls up an answering machine and leaves instructions while guitar distortion floats in and around the ether. I suppose this one makes me feel confused, as though I've awoken after a long night, and I'm suddenly surrounded by voices and memories that I'm not sure are my own. And I suppose that it's only the first and final tracks that I actually listened to as musical compositions, not sensory experiences. Make of that what you will.
Of course, my reactions are my own, and no doubt you'll experience something very different when listening to this work. And that's the point: music is a private thing, something that each one of us experiences in a different way. Too much experimental electronic music forgets the experience of listening and enjoying music, focusing instead on the novelty of the experiment itself. It's a true pleasure to discover a work that simply oozes with creativity and invention, by artists who realize how truly special music can be. Mujo is a great listen and a great journey, and I recommend it for anyone who wants to hear something special.
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