The Electric Chair
Do you wanna be surrounded? A setup diagram on the new electronica surround-sound DVD compilation Awaken shows how to position your TV and six (6) matched, specially amped speakers so the experience can fully enjoy you. It looks like some kind of futuristic custody. The listener shrinks in his chair while the speakers -- uh, monitors -- vigilantly circumscribe his existence. Freeze, dirtbag, we got plans for you.
Movies have already conditioned audiences to similar captivity; music, before now, has cut us more physicalfinancial slack. Call it evolution: Seventies quad didnt become extinct, it just mutated. Therell be fences more electrifying to come, but as an example of the current surround-sound circuit, Awaken is a hospitable prison.
Its even idealistic. The producers and musicians who made Awakens 12 discrete tracks are young and slobby. In the discs artist interviews (the package also includes alternate mixes and visuals), they talk about stuff like accentuating the positive and realizing your dreams. Life and death are of supreme importance, reads one screen title. Thanks for the tip, right? But these days, the statement isnt completely axiomatic.
The music is a welcoming environment of warm electronica. And, considering that it comes from 12 individual artistsentities, its coherent, thanks to the shepherding and sequencing of musical director Poet Name Life. Though you can get Awaken as a simple stereo CD, and it sounds fine that way, the project was clearly conceived for surround sound -- 5.1 its called, after the five satellite speakers and one subwoofer. Avoiding the heavy frontal assault of rock and most dance music, Awaken emphasizes the kinds of rhythmic blips, smears and warbles that can move unobtrusively around your head. (You got 5.1? Me neither; I went to a friends house.)
The checklist: Its spacy. Its melodic. You can dance (in place), or not. Because lots of samples are present, the fi isnt audiophilically hi. Words as such hardly surface after Divine Stylers anomalous heavy-handedly poetic, hip-hoppy opening track. Vocals are sprinkled here and there, just like you want em: ah-oh; ah-ah; uh-ah-uh; ooh-hoo-ooh. Recurring influences? You hear traces of Jamaican dub (tapped on RPLs and Omids tracks), and of bedroom mumbler Barry White (on DJ Motive8s and King Britts). Not many more.
While youre listening, Awaken gives you things to look at, mainly paintings by graffiti and spray-can artist Kofie, who created several for each track. Theyre good: colorful, gritty and not too literal. But theyre stationary. So the combination -- music that moves with images that dont -- offers less reward than fixating on your lava lamp. Animation, of course, wouldve been expensive.
When you get to the end, after the fast distortions and turntable scratches of Relms Revenge of the Nerd have yielded to the coarsely compressed beats and distant glacial landslides of Mount Cyanides extended Antarctica (my favorite track -- also check out its clean-mean alternate video), you wont feel disappointed. You might not feel blown away, either, but Godzillan pummeling isnt what these organic explorers are after. If said pummeling is your meat, youre probably using your DVD player the way the Good Lord and Paramount Pictures intended, and wont yearn to be Awakened. Whos fooling whom remains to be seen: The Awakeners may be subverting the machine, or they may be getting sucked into it. (The project was executive-produced by Richard Dashut, co-producer of Fleetwood Macs Rumours.)
What, in fact, is Awaken? A 5.1 test-drive? Its more than a demo but less than a full realization of this baby technology. Trip fodder? This breakfast is more coffee than fried egg. Makeout music? On the discs danciest track, Time Bomb, Rabbit in the Moon hisses, Got to have sex through electronics -- okay, if thats the way you want it, and the abstract sensuality on Awaken does suggest celibacy. A call to arms? Aside from the populism of the street-level painting and some oblique commentary on mechanization and seal-clubbing, the politics are vague; besides, your average proletarian could hock all his leather-bound Marx books and not scrape up enough change for a surround-sound amplifier. Possibility: In this writers experience, the music provided excellent background for a family game of Parcheesi. Was this the artists intention? Doubtful.
So . . . dunno. Must be art.
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