Lords of drift and discovery

Five artists who have charted new electronic realms

The drift. In 2006, Scott Walker used that phrase as an album title. It's an apt tag for music of the electronic and digital eras. As inferred by another idiosyncratic singer and surfer of the vanguard, Chelonis R. Jones, electronic sound is dislocated sound. And only through its drift — the drift — does one happen upon a discovery.

Here are some lords of drift and discovery. These five electronic musicians are innovators, even inventors. They've been around for decades, but like sound waves echoing back from deep space, their older recordings have returned to reach new listeners. Monoton is a Kraftwerk the masses don't know about. The meditative sounds of J.D. Emmanuel are inspiring musicians who weren't even born when he was creating tape loops. Time is only just now catching up with Bernard Szajner's conceptual and compositional talent. Cluster continues to unite and fragment in studios and on stereos and stages. And like a ghost from a pop memory that never quite formed, Riechmann floats into this past-haunted present moment to deliver a chilly kiss.

The drift? Catch it. (Johnny Ray Huston)



MONOTON Modern music has its share of accidental holy grails — the heretofore-undiscovered missing artistic link; the crate-digger's trade secret; the record that launched a thousand unknowing imitators. Somehow these records make the most overworked clichés seem like fresh descriptors. So I am willing to stand by my hyperbolic claim that the records Austrian multimedia theorist, researcher, and artist Konrad Becker released in the early 1980s as Monoton are some of the best electronic music albums you've probably never heard.

Such was the consensus of British canon-building screed The Wire almost 10 years ago when they nominated Monoton's 1982 limited release album Monotonprodukt 07 as one of its "100 records that set the world on fire (when no one was listening)." Now, thanks to a steady stream of reissues on Canadian experimental electronic imprint Oral — starting with Monotonprodukt 07 in 2003 — it is easier to hear why.

Like the glistening streets in a film noir, there is an aura of mystery — even menace — to the song-sketches Becker crafts from his relatively simple palette of dubbed-out drum machines, five note arpegiated bass lines, and reedy synth drones, all slicked with reverb. Monoton's sound is wholly self-contained, yet it is not hard to hear strains of electronic music's divergent future paths — Basic Channel's heroin techno, Raster Norton's tonal asceticism, Pole's digital dub washes — even as it slips in air kisses to contemporaries like Throbbing Gristle, Cluster, and Brian Eno.

As with many other great musical experiments, Monoton was born from frustration: "Nobody else was doing this kind of thing," Becker explains via e-mail, "So if I wanted to spin something like that on a record player, I would have to do it myself." Working with admittedly "low-end equipment" — borrowed synths and a 4-track — Becker started making music that was "not 'composed,' but deciphered from nature, like Fibonacci numbers, pi, Feigenbaum, etc. [These are] embedded physical or natural constants with values and proportions that can be expressed in frequencies." The titles of many Monoton tracks ("Soundsequence," "Squared Roots", "p") are matter-of-fact explanations for their stochastic origins.

But the records were only one part of Becker's larger project researching synesthetic experiences and the psychoacoustic properties of music. He's put together several site-specific multimedia installations in spaces like underground medieval chapels and blackened tunnels covered in fluorescent paint.

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