San Francisco’s Other Minds has launched a series of digital-only releases by electronic musicians who can unquestionably be classified as “groundbreaking”.
The rather essential Serge Works by Tom Djll opens the dances with a bang. Not just a bang, in truth; also, all the variations on the “alternative noise” canon one could expect from the coupling of a heavily processed trumpet and a modular synthesizer. The range of anarchic (or less) sonorities found in these seven recordings – all of them premieres, dating from 1983 to 1988 – makes a monkey of someone like yours truly, who spends his playing time today by attempting to reach a “perfect tuning” of the guitar in a pathetic conceptual parroting of a master painter who takes hours to prepare the instruments ahead of the creative impulse.
Not to mention certain preset-minded computer manipulators paid thousands to reproduce the same old crap across innumerable invitations and residencies.
On the contrary, Djll is keen to point out how he had to learn to assemble the Serge’s circuits, manually soldering the parts before committing himself to work. In the long and exhaustive interview enclosed with the files, he literally puts the potential listener “into” the context while talking about interesting issues concerning his growth: teachers, improvising comrades, techniques, influences and criticism. Among others, and curiously enough, at the Colorado College he studied under the supervision of Stephen Scott – that’s right, he of the bowed piano masterpieces. A proof of how differently distinguished talents find a way to meet somehow, somewhere.
What you’re going to hear is an engaging hybrid of involuntary irony and systematic change whose total spells “brilliance”. The program includes an extract from a live performance in Seattle where Djll emits (quote) “a good deal of raw skronking meant to push people back in their seats”, and two fascinating duets with percussionist Ross Rabin. My overall favorite is “FAT”, the longest track on offer, performed exclusively on the synthesizer and, in a sense, mixing all the components between “relatively quiet” and “animalistically vivacious” of Djll’s inventiveness. The opening “TOMBO” and “Popcorn Music” are warranted to cancel the word “routine” from your vocabulary as well. If you follow the writer’s advice and stick with this material for a few days, it will become a healthy acoustic environment deprived of immutable hierarchies.
Even the most rigid ears will capitulate. Or else, the peevish ones can still revert to their darling ringtone symphony from the higher spheres.
Ultimately, I’m willing to paste here a whole answer by Djll, summarizing quite effectively his quest as a deeply human sonic investigator: “One of the things that I got from being so focused on free improv was a horror of anything like pop music, or anything repetitive. I was left cold by all of the synthesizer music of that era, it’s just so repetitive it’s mind-numbing! When I did looping, I always made sure to mess it up in some way, to complexify it. I’m so easily bored by repetition.”
Very true. In this case, though, the “repeat” command is a must.