V/A, Pencils and Computers
Computers have changed music, of course. It's easier and cheaper to produce high-quality music today than ever before. A great deal of music today, in fact, is not only recorded onto computers but is made by computer programs. But has anyone ever used the computer itself as an instrument? Has anyone ever drummed his/her fingers on the keyboard or thrown a rock at the screen in frustration? I'm guessing everyone has done something like this at one time or another. Now someone has taken this concept to a new level. Pencils and Computers features artists I've never heard of, on a label that I have never heard of, which is comprised of music created solely using (as the title suggests) computers and pencils. How do you make songs with computers and pencils? I'm sure you can come up with a few ideas. One way is to bang the pencil against the computer, keyboard, screen, modem, and so on, recording the sounds made by these various collisions, and then reworking those sounds into a sort of structure. That's what Third Bloody Ear did with the CD's first track, "Bot-Cathaid," a simple two-minute minimalist track that repeats a simple 4 bar pattern again and again until it ends. It sounds like an advanced version of the songs those kids who sit in subway terminals and hit plastic tubs with sticks play--only this track is less about the rhythm and more about the process of creating sound with the different parts of a pencil (graphite, rubber, wood, metal) and a computer (screen, disk drive, modem, etc). It's an interesting work, but it's really only an exercise, an example of what music can sound like with these two instruments. Another way to make a song with pencils and computers is to, as before, record the sounds made by the collision of these instruments, and then use a variety of filters, effects, and other plug-ins to rearrange, pervert, or otherwise distort the sounds so that they sound nothing at all like their source. That's what Meaty Drum Bass Fossil does with track 2, "Worm is Cheese," which features a repeating vox-track, which transforms a simple procession of "taps" into a voice that repeats the phrase, "Worm is cheese," over and over and over, and figures that loop into a swirling, kaleidoscope of sounds which float in and out, back and forth, up and down and all over the place (when using headphones, at least). It's a wonderful song, and what follows are 15 other tracks that are equally inventive, shocking, and fascinating. Not all the songs use distortion and mutation to the extent MDBF do, but all of the songs (with the exception of the first track, as I've said) certainly challenge my own expectations of sounds computers and pencils can create together. If you think about it, matching high-tech computers with their low-tech equivalent (writing instruments) makes a perverse sense in this post-post-modern world where everything digital is lauded as magic. And, of course, this is not a new or original position to take. But what counts is the music, and this work more than succeeds on all levels. Highly recommended.
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