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 didn’t become extinct, it just mutated. There‘ll be fences more electrifying to come, but as an example of the current surround-sound circuit, Awaken is a hospitable prison.
It’s even idealistic. The producers and musicians who made Awaken‘s 12 discrete tracks are young and slobby. In the disc’s 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 isn‘t completely axiomatic.
The music is a welcoming environment of warm electronica. And, considering that it comes from 12 individual artistsentities, it’s 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 it‘s 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 friend’s house.)
The checklist: It‘s spacy. It’s melodic. You can dance (in place), or not. Because lots of samples are present, the fi isn‘t audiophilically hi. Words as such hardly surface after Divine Styler’s 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 RPL’s and Omid‘s tracks), and of bedroom mumbler Barry White (on DJ Motive8’s and King Britt‘s). Not many more.
While you’re listening, Awaken gives you things to look at, mainly paintings by graffiti and spray-can artist Kofie, who created several for each track. They‘re good: colorful, gritty and not too literal. But they’re stationary. So the combination — music that moves with images that don‘t — offers less reward than fixating on your lava lamp. Animation, of course, would’ve been expensive.
When you get to the end, after the fast distortions and turntable scratches of Relm‘s “Revenge of the Nerd” have yielded to the coarsely compressed beats and distant glacial landslides of Mount Cyanide’s extended “Antarctica” (my favorite track — also check out its clean-mean alternate video), you won‘t feel disappointed. You might not feel blown away, either, but Godzillan pummeling isn’t what these organic explorers are after. If said pummeling is your meat, you‘re probably using your DVD player the way the Good Lord and Paramount Pictures intended, and won’t yearn to be Awakened. Who‘s 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 Mac’s Rumours.)
What, in fact, is Awaken? A 5.1 test-drive? It‘s 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 disc’s danciest track, “Time Bomb,” Rabbit in the Moon hisses, “Got to have sex through electronics” — okay, if that‘s 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 writer’s 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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