Friday, May 14, 2004
 
For the month long interval between the headphone portal in my discman finally completely dying and receiving an iPod for my birthday, all of my listening-while-commuting (which makes up the largest part of my music listening time) has been mediated by my discman's volume-fixed Line Out portal. As someone who prefers to listen to music at tinnitus-inducing levels, I found this immensely irritating, and mostly I just switched back to reading instead; the type of music I go for just doesn't translate well when it's struggling with the train engine for audibility.

One major exception was Ricardo Villalobos's Alcachofa. Like many I suspect, I found much of Alcachofa difficult to get into at first - too dry and desiccated, clicky and whispery but with nothing that you could call an assault or a caress to accomadate my preferences for sadism and/or sensuality in dance music. His queasy textures and intricate but limp rhythms seem purpose-built to induce sensations of ambivalence and uncertainty - am I enjoying this? am I not enjoying this? Even the with the lusher moments like "Theogenese" we're hardly talking verdant green jungles or moist warm cavities; it's closer to an oddly affecting mechanical absence, like watching sprinklers go off at timed intervals over an empty and freshly cut football field.

Villalobos's "trick" is essentially a reversal of the move made by many microhouse producers who have thickened up the physical core of their sound; Villalobos, by contrast, has de-emphasised any core even further, diminishing any residual trace of the house tug, and pushing into front and center all the sound dust and sonic debris that are traditionally employed by microhouse producers to elegantly frame the groove. In doing so he asks us to consider whether such debris can stand on its own, can be a legitimate source of physical compulsion.

One would think that such music would be particularly ill-suited to low volumes, all its buzzing and scraping fading into a general melee of background noise. And yet somehow, the opposite occurs: at a level of barely-there audibility, Alcachofa's assortment of buzzes and whirs take on the essentiality of every day life: sounds without purpose in and of themselves except that they signify a quietly furious organic busyness. Ants scurrying across your floorboards with sugar grains in tow; a distant train crunching a soft drink can strewn across the track. It's almost as if Alcachofa's most loveable quality is ignorability. Which seems counter-intuitive to me on a personal if not theoretical level, yet it's the only rationale I can offer for why I'm constantly listening to it right now.


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