February 18, 2003

Glitch learns how to dance

"Glitch," as a genre, or more accurately as an aesthetic, was originally called glitch because visionary artists like Oval and Pole incorporated digital errors (glitches) into their electronic compositions. While electronic music in the early 90's was defined by artists like the Orb, who followed the sound of clubs' chill out rooms to its inevitable conclusion (drifting, sample-laden ambience), and the Artificial Intelligence gang (Autechre, Speedy J, Aphex Twin), glitch was the vanguard of electronic music at the end of the decade.

Whereas Autechre flexed their sampler until it excreted the strangest noises they could find, and Aphex had (in fact or fantasy) built his own analog synthesizers and sequencers from scratch, glitch artists concentrated on the capabilities of digital, rather than analog, technology, and its inevitable "excess." Therefore, in part to refute the argument that digital technology was cold and unfeeling (too ordered to be able to produce affecting music), Oval would intentionally scratch CDs and incorporate their skipping into their songs. The idea was to centralize what were formerly marginalized aspects of a sonic space, kind of like an indie rocker amplifying the static of a lo-fi recording. Oval thereby injected music that had formerly been deemed over-determined with an organic degree of aleatory.

Since then, most artists have used the sound of skipping CDs in a more overtly structured manner than Oval, to good and poor effect. After their pioneering works, many new artists began to emerge to contribute to the construction of the glitch aesthetic, which also focuses on the amplification of minute sounds. The culmination of this was the original Clicks_+_Cuts, a two-disc compilation of tracks by luminaries like Pole, Pan Sonic, and Frank Bretschneider that sought both to roughly define and to expand glitch's possibilities.

Two years later, and I sit with my requisite headphones around my ears, contemplating Clicks & Cuts 3. My general impression is that CC3 reflects a shift in glitch towards accessibility and away (if only slightly) from abstraction. The first track of the first disc, SND's "Palo Alto," announces it in no uncertain terms with a catchy, if arid, house beat. Indeed, one could play it in a glossy black Suburban cruising the verdant suburb without turning many heads. In terms of pure catchiness, the first disc never hits that peak again, but the varied offerings from the cream of the glitch crop are mostly excellent.

Alva Noto's "Transrapid," for instance, sounds like danceable Pan Sonic, incorporating a metallic whirr reminiscent of parts of Väisänen and Vainio's A.

Rob Acid's "Loving Ya" integrates the intermittent buzzes and pops of Matmos's "Rhinoplasty" with microhouse appropriate to Muji. It makes me want to dance; it makes me want to buy chic utilitarian clothing.

Disc One is very minimal, seeming overall to be pieced together of microscopic grains of sound rather than extended notes or chords. Overall it maintains Mille Plateaux's experimental edge while not forgoing the beloved 4/4 beat.

The second disc begins with "Melt," by Vladislav Delay, here recording as Luomo. If you took a U.K. Garage song and cut it up and restitched it, this is what it would sound like--not too slick for the elitists, not too fractured for the proles. At nine-plus minutes, it overstays its welcome a bit, but leaves a good impression.

Antonelli Electr.'s "Lovers Inn" sounds like a male robot seducing a female robot; Mikael Stavostrand's "Onside" like the intercourse that follows.

The second half of the second disc is more cerebral, with tracks like Robin Judge's "Rhizome" and Rechenzentrum's "Box" referring to the past (read: Pole) without merely retreading it.

While there are a few throw-away tracks, Clicks & Cuts 3 is overall a fascinating and (perhaps less likely) an enjoyable listen. It is also a testament to the continued relevance of glitch. It shows how a crop of younger artists have reinvigorated the aesthetic by using its palette in new ways, from creating dance beats from clicks to cutting up vocals and splicing them with the meat and potatoes of sonic detritus. The artists assembled on CC3 have taken what might have constrained them and instead boldly expanded upon them. If only the same could be said of rock and pop, which only seem to innovate by looking backwards.