Futurism Restated #61: Ghosts, Dream Walkers, and the Dead (2024)

Futurism Restated #61: Ghosts, Dream Walkers, and the Dead (1)

I went to Ibiza last week, third time ever, for all of 24 hours. Honestly, I didn’t get up to much. I co-moderated a panel at IMS Ibiza about the importance of archiving the history of electronic music; the talk proved to be surprisingly interesting and unusually optimistic. Publications may be collapsing around us; the benevolent-patron model that kept Red Bull Music Academy going has proven untenable; and institutional largesse comes with its own attendant problems (UNESCO world heritage fiasco, anyone?). But everyone on the panel had an acute awareness that something has to be done, and that ultimately it’s going to have to be a grassroots and decentralized effort. DJ Paulette, a veteran house DJ and author of Welcome to the Club: The Life and Lessons of a Black Woman DJ, spoke inspiringly of the need to cast aside the gatekeepers; she should know, as a queer Black woman who watched for decades as she and her peers were written out of official histories of dance music—which was, in large part, why she decided to write her story in the first place. (I only had time to read the first chapter before the conference, but I’m eager to read the whole book; she was a magnetic personality on stage.)

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I wish I had more to say about Ibiza, but I didn’t see anything beyond the hotel (no disrespect to the fine folks at IMS, but I’ll never understand the urge to put DJs in hotel lobbies; I found myself experiencing severe flashbacks to WMC in the early 2000s) and the surprisingly great pizza place in Cala Llonga. (I’ll always feel fondly about any restaurant that offers you the free chupito of a licor de hierbas after your meal.) The most illuminating conversation I had outside the panel was, undoubtedly, the chat with my van driver, who lamented how prohibitively expensive Ibiza had gotten for locals, who struggle to find affordable housing. It’s the same everywhere, of course, but it’s particularly rough on an island powered by an economy that appeals to deep-pocketed tourists. That it’s a very old story (fresh out of college, after moving to Maine to work in the tourist sector in Bar Harbor, my girlfriend and I shared a trailer on a rural plot of land with a random housemate, simply because there was nothing else available to us, as seasonal minimum-wage employees) doesn’t make it any less concerning, in the era of Airbnb, private equity buying up housing stock, international imbalances in purchasing power, etc.

For paying subscribers, a new issue of the Mixes Digest went up yesterday, and it’s the biggest issue yet: 10 mixes (five long-ass blurbs, per my usual loquacious style, and five capsule blurbs), plus an exclusive 2020 IDM mix of my own that had been languishing on my hard drive. There are some real gems in the sets I highlight—you’ll thank me, I promise—and my mix is pretty great too, if I say so myself. The closing track is something I’d been waiting for years to find a place for.

This week’s newsletter leads off with the essential new album from Oren Ambarchi’s Ghosted trio, which sounds exactly as you expect yet at the same time left me absolutely floored. After that, a bundle of surprises, including two killer new tapes from Poland’s Pointless Geometry; a gorgeous new Carlos Giffoni synth album; and more.

And, finally, for paying subscribers, the playlists have been updated.

Scroll on for this week’s reviews!

Futurism Restated #61: Ghosts, Dream Walkers, and the Dead (2)

Oren Ambarchi, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin: Ghosted II (Drag City)

If you’ve heard Ambarchi, Berthling, and Werliin’s masterful Ghosted, from 2022 (which I reviewed)—and if you haven’t, what a treat you have in store for you—there may not be any huge surprises on this follow-up; but then, who needs something as prosaic as novelty when this trio is tasked with nothing less than mapping out the shape of infinity itself? Once again, drummer Werliin carves out tricky polyrhyhms with the facility of a savant sketching equations on a chalkboard; bassist Berthling locks into repeated figures on acoustic and electric basses; and Ambarchi uses his instrument less like a guitar than a flashlight, washing the rhythm section’s spinning gears in glowing streaks. “en” is the most insistent of the four longish tracks here, with a swinging, rollicking rhythm, but part of their genius is the way they seem to play in two directions at once: Something about the bass (two overdubbed parts, if I’m not mistaken) and drums feel like one is speeding and the other slowing, almost imperceptibly, jostling against the frame of every measure. As always, the joy of the Ghosted trio is balancing the long arc of their playing—each groove feels like it’s been doing since time began, and will run until doomsday—with the internal variations, the elastic push and pull, on a microsecond level.

On “två,” Berthling taps out luminous overtones on electric bass while Ambarchi dissolves his instrument in a Leslie-tremolo spray, and Werliin takes an unusually minimalist tack; it reminds me a little of the way that as a child, I used to occasionally see galaxies of blue-white lights dotted against the black of my closed eyes, pinpoints that would swirl and dissolve. No idea what happened to those; I got older, I guess.

“tre,” the album’s slowest cut, takes up the meditative impulse of the original album’s “III”; I don’t know who or what (Ambarchi, I suppose) playing the bright, plucked tones with an almost West African air, but they drift down like a light mist over the rhythm section’s jutting pylons. “fyra” feels like the most unusual of the four: Phrases count out in 12-beat phrases; Berthling’s bassline leaps octaves, and Ambarchi’s guitar fans out in vivid chromatic waves. I’m pretty sure that looping pedals, or overdubbing, are involved, but in any case the effect is of a fullness, a richness, that feels new here, spreading outward in every direction, even as the whole thing simmers down into a hushed, quasi-ambient denouement. It’s honestly hard to express just how transportive, how quietly mind-bending this trio’s music is, simply because they make it look so easy.

Futurism Restated #61: Ghosts, Dream Walkers, and the Dead (3)

Dawno Temu: Sacralia (Pointless Geometry)

SSRI: SSRI (Pointless Geometry)

The more I discover from the excellent Polish label Pointless Geometry, the more impressed I am by their range. Case in point, two strong new releases that couldn’t have less in common.

An ostensibly simple setup—held synthesizer tones paired with different configurations of violins, baritone violin, and cello—yields impossibly rich results on Polish composer Agnieszka Bykowska’s second album as Dawno Temu. Her alias apparently translates as “long ago,” which feels appropriate: These pieces move so slowly that they feel like slow-motion echoes of events that happened in the far distant past. Bykowska’s synthesizer barely registers as much: There are no overtly “musical” motifs, nor any major shifts in tone or timbre. It simply grows and wanes, with long attacks and equally tapered decays, throwing off the trebly fizz of a buzzing tungsten bulb. Improvised string parts from Antonina Car and Joanna Szczęsnowicz add harmonic depth, coaxing microtonal beating out of the thickening gel of frequencies. Éliane Radigue and Morton Feldman are obvious influences, but the grace, lyricism, and—dare I say—poetry are Bykowska’s alone. An album of rare, stark beauty.

Polish duo SSRI (Sandra Mikołajczyk and Igor Gadomski) are not immune to the power of the drone, but in their case, they filter it through a woozy ambient-dub sensibility. There are shades of Seefeel, and Mad Professor vs. Massive Attack, in the dusty lurch’n’clang of “FLETUWA” and the more shimmery pulse of “DOB”; the springier “BEEEEEEAT” makes me think of Equiknoxx remixing Pole (feat. Phew?); the opening “JUUUUUUNG” has an epic soundtrack feel, part orchestra tuning up, part Muscut Black Sea dub. The pulverized breaks of “WOOOOOBB” remind me of illbient touchstones We(™), while “OMBIENT” is everything you might hope for from a title like that. Every track maps out a new patch of ground within the duo’s carefully imagined universe.

Carlos Giffoni: Dream Walker (Ideologic Organ)

Carlos Giffoni’s work has always been one of my blind spots. I’ve known of him, particularly his No Fun fest, but I’ve heard very little of his work. That’s on me, of course; I’d tended to think of him as a harsh noise artist, a sound/scene that I respect, but that’s never been fully my bag. I am, at heart, a big ol’ softy, I’m sorry. So I’ve been happy to discover, listening to Dream Walker—Giffoni’s first album in eight years—that he’s a big ol’ softy too. Or at least he is here. Dream Walker was reportedly inspired by sets from Lasse Marhaug, Jim O’Rourke, and Eiko Ishibashi at 2023’s GRM festival in Paris; it is “a love letter to all the music I love,” Giffoni writes. “I set out to make something that sounded good to my ears with no preconceptions or limitations, so it wears its influences on its sleeve. When you listen, if you start to feel like you know, then you know.” The album traverses 11 tracks in 37 minutes, but I tend to think of it as one long, extended piece that cycles through related phases: the OPN-like tubular glow of the opening “Now Dream”; the viscous murk of “Saltos”; the liturgical drone of “Ticking Clock,” whose organ pipes seem to have frozen over; the Emeralds-esque arpeggiated fizz of “Euphoria Part 2” and “Euphoria Part 1.” “Episode” feels particularly lonely and haunted; in its simplicity, it seems to privilege emotional directness over sound-design fireworks, which I think holds true for the album as a whole. It’s an unshowy, understated affair possessed of an eerie, hard-to-define power.

Nuke Watch: Pepper’s Ghost (Patience / Impatience)

I keep thinking that the title of this album is Prepper’s Ghost, which would make sense for an artist named Nuke Watch, what with its suggestion of specters in bunkers. In any case, you could still file Pepper’s Ghost under “music for haunted bunkers,” given its haphazard, tumbledown, scavenged sensibility in which instruments and phrases have been cobbled together in exploratory, semi-deranged ways—like making string telephones out of decade-old cans of irradiated Campbell’s soup, to continue with the post-apocalyptic metaphor. Nuke Watch are the duo of New York’s Aaron Andereson and Chris Hontos, aka the Beat Detectives (The Trilogy Tapes, Commend, Moon Glyph, Not Not Fun, 100% Silk, etc.); keywords here are splotchy, unpredictable, haywire, organic, genetically engineered. The jury-rigged diwali rhythms of “Her Cumbersome Machinery” are a particular treat.

Leaving: Hidden View (Moon Glyph)

Portland label Moon Glyph’s latest strays from what I think of as their billowy, new-age sensibility; on Hidden View, Leaving (Rupert Thomas, of the duo Erasers, of Noongar boodja, or Perth, in Western Australia) zeros in on a small synthesizer setup and revels in the purring. It’s a consonant, melodic sound, not lo-fi, exactly, but decidedly no frills—I could easily imagine it on Not Not Fun or 100% Silk—and imbued with retrofuturist melancholy. Of course, there’s a lot of music out there that fits that bill, and if there’s one genre I couldn’t care less about, it’s retro-fetishistic “synthwave”; but this isn’t that, I don’t think. There’s not an iota of back-to-the-future gee-whizzism about it; the sounds may carry the unmistakable whiff of the era in which the hardware was popular, but primary emphasis is musical rather than referential, focusing on the emotional payoff possible from repeated tone clusters, slow tempos, and patient delay.

Poppy H: To the Dead, We Failed (self-released)

Credit goes, once again, to Stephan Kunze’s Zen Sounds for hipping me to Poppy H a few months back, which led me to write about the UK musician’s Grave Era. In another era, Poppy H might have made his music on a Tascam Portastudio; instead, he uses a smartphone, improvising on the instruments around him and recording via his phone mic into Garageband. I still have trouble believing that’s even possible, given the not-at-all-compromised fidelity of his work, but I have no particular reason to doubt him! The artist created To the Dead, We Failed in a single day, he says, collaging together untreated acoustic recordings into meandering, song-like shapes. Guitar plays a central role in most of these tracks, casting goth-folk shadows on the candle-lit walls; move toward the margins, and murky room tone, rustling, and drones begin to assert their presence. It builds to a bleak, anguished finale in the from of the spectral drones of “mattermost,” but before that, the two-minute-long “It’s OK, Nobody Will Remember Any of This”—just strummed guitar, piano, and a reverberant, pitch-bending drum—offers a beautifully bittersweet moment of cosmic acceptance.

Isla Saturno, Criosphera, and Sr. Maniqui: “Rosado” (También)

Quito, Ecuador’s También first caught my ear with Ezmeralda’s Patrimonio immaterial de la nada, and then dj +1’s Aromáticas (reviewed here); now the label’s back with a lovely one-off between Isla Saturno, Criosphera, and Mariela Espinosa, aka Sr. Maniqui. Folding together synthesizer, saxophone, and voice, “Rosado” comes from a similar galaxy as the ambient jazz of Nala Sinephro or much of Moon Glyph’s output; it feels less like something played than something breathed, exuded—a cloud formation that formed in the studio, backlit with late-afternoon sun, and then dissipated.

Polido: While the Iron Was Hot (ANA)

I love getting a Bandcamp notification from a label, not having any idea who they are or why I might be following them, then clicking through to the new release and deciding: Yes, this is extremely my sh*t. Such was the case with this new EP from an artist named Polido on a label called ANA, neither of whom rings any bells for me; the only familiar name in the credits is Rupert Clervaux, who mastered it. But wow. “Stage” layers digital (?) organs over regimented trap/trip-hop beats, at once martial and funereal, and stacks and smears the tones into a bristly blur. The all-too-short “Holdover” suggests faint Seefeel or Disjecta vibes, with radiant synths over dubwise drum programming; it needs an eight-minute remix, stat. The gloomy dub of “Another Front,” featuring muttered vocals from Piere Guerineau, is reminiscent of Blackest Ever Black’s glory days, while the closing “Met the Moment” is part digital dancehall, part Mo Wax, part goth—and all tearjerker. Like I said, extremely my sh*t.

Wave Arising: (The) Rooted Sky (Ransom Note)

Sebastian Vaughan’s life in electronic music goes back to the late 1980s and the birth of Spiral Tribe, the free-party collective that united the UK’s rave scene and traveler movement. As Wave Arising, he makes psychedelic techno in the tradition of artists like Aleksi Perälä, distinguished by its glistening digital sound design and, especially, its unusual time signatures and competing polyrhythms. The convoluted drum programming here is mind-bending in the best way.

Hodge & Nakamura Minami: Everyday in the Club / Bounce on the Water (Trekkie Trax)

I didn’t see this one coming: Bristol bass/techno/club producer Hodge (whose great 2020 album Shadows in Blue I reviewed) teams up with Japanese rapper Nakamura Minami for three bonkers anthems of heavy breakbeat/footwork pressure. Hodge’s productions have never sounded more soaked in color than they do here, making them the perfect complement for Nakamura’s alternating chirps and chants.

Sound Methods 007: Taylor Deupree & Joseph Branciforte

I recently wrote an introduction for the liner notes to Taylor Deupree and Joseph Branciforte’s Sti.ll, in which Branciforte reimagined Deupree’s 2002 album Stil., an austere masterpiece of digital microsound, as a work for acoustic instruments—clarinets, vibraphone, cello, double bass, percussion, etc.—recorded without looping or sampling. It’s a stunning piece of translation. Here, Sound Methods’ Andrew Tasselmyer goes deep into the project with both artists, and it’s fascinating.

Joe: [There are] four pieces on the original album, and the new album has acoustic arrangements of all four. But because I was, in the beginning, a little bit overwhelmed by the prospect of doing the whole thing, I said to Taylor, “well, I don't really know if A) I can do this, B) if it's worth doing, and C) if it's going to sound any good or you're going to be happy with it. So given that, why don't we just start with one piece out of the four, give it a shot, and then if it totally stinks we can just pull the rip cord without too much pain and suffering. If we're happy with it, then we can do the next one.” So it was this sort of like middle ground where I couldn't get my head around it, but I was like, “this seems like something that could be fun, so let's give it a shot.”

So, we went in and did this first piece with a clarinetist, Madison Greenstone. Taylor had mentioned in his initial email to me that he really imagined reworking this record with - well, he didn't specify it in a direct way, but he said he had some ideas for instruments, and some ideas he mentioned were clarinet and cello. When we approached the first piece, we talked about, “well, we could try arranging it for clarinet.” I had never really worked with a clarinetist or written for clarinet, so that was a bit daunting, but there was this sort of long gestation period where I worked with this clarinetist going back and forth and exploring techniques. I was transcribing from the original Stil. record by ear, and writing down pitches and phrase lengths and a sort of rough notation to just get us in the ballpark at first, just to see what this would sound like.

I remember Madison and I were at my studio during one of these workshop kind of sessions. Right before she was about to head to her train and we were winding down, I said, “can we just quickly record the 14 or 15 layers of clarinet that I had written out?” We quickly recorded them, I edited them real quick as she was running out the door, and then we hit spacebar on the Pro Tools session and just heard it back. I think at that moment, when I actually heard it come back, it turned from this kind of historical or academic project to something that I was like, “wow, this could be really exciting.”

Taylor: Yeah, that was amazing. When Joe sent me that quick Pro Tools bounce - unmixed, just a dozen layers of clarinet - I was like, “holy sh*t, that's the record.” And like Joe said, I think that's the moment that we realized, “I think we can do this.”

First Floor: The Holy Hell of Cursed Jumpstyle

Kieran Press-Reynolds on “a growing wave of psychotic jumpstyle music that seems made to express existential fears: technology has gone too far, we’ve broken the world beyond repair, autocratic autobots will soon seize control.” I find it hard to take TikTok viral trends seriously, and the idea of making art out of meme culture is about as appealing to me as accompanying a really nice natural wine with Doritos. But Press-Reynolds attends to this stuff with level of detail that tells me I’m probably just incurious/clueless/hopelessly Gen X about it all, which, fine. I feel better about being able to blithely ignore this stuff, knowing that someone as perceptive as Press-Reynolds is on the case.

What makes this internet-addled aesthetic so addictive is the way it taps into the younger generation’s collectively fried childhoods. It’s a sh*tposty Tower of Babble that crosses countries and languages. Louka, the 21-year-old behind the electronic and rap production act Shadow Wizard Money Gang, tells me this stuff is so prevalent because we live in a “tweaked-out era.” Everyone has unhealthy screen time; some grew up mainlining convoluted Christine Chan and Five Nights at Freddy’s lore. “There’s a big aspect of funniness that didn’t used to exist in jumpstyle and gabber,” says Louka, “and that’s 100% from the internet and meme culture.”

SWMG is partly known for Trapaholics-inspired parody producer tags. Instead of the classic “Damn son, where’d you find this?,” a deep voice intones lunatic stuff like “I’m being gangstalked by the CIA, they put a chip in my brain” and “The 5G is microwaving my organs” over bashing beats. (My favorite, by his collaborator DJ Smokey: “I just shoved a nuke up my puss*.”) But beneath the freaky facade is genuinely intoxicating electronic music, like “Bloodspell Sacrifice Witchcraft Person,” which will make you jump like you’ve been hacked by malware. Louka operates like a digital crate-clicker, spending hours trawling through conspiracy theory posts and creepypasta videos like Sonic.exe and Herobrine to find intriguing sounds and ideas.

First FloorThe Holy Hell of Cursed JumpstyleHi there. Shawn speaking. As promised, I’m on vacation for a couple of weeks, but I just wanted to pop in real quick and say that today’s essay was put together by Kieran Press-Reynolds. A young music and culture writer based in Brooklyn, he’s done some incredible work for places like Pitchfork, The New York Times and no bells, and though he’s now an independent freelancer, he spent the past few years on staff as a Digital Culture Reporter at Business Insider…Read more11 days ago · 13 likes · Kieran Press-Reynolds

Read Max: What I’m Reading About Student Protests

Max Read offers a really helpful and perceptive roundup around the media’s failings to treat the pro-Palestine protests with anything approaching good faith.

I try not to pay much attention to “campus controversies” because they are always cathected with energies I don’t really understand, but it’s precisely because I don’t usually give a sh*t about what students are up to that the images of violence struck me deeply. (Since 2020, elites in media and politics seem to have decided that national anti-police street protests were Bad Politics and needed to be trashed and erased from collective memory--but, what, did they think the brutality that spurred those protests would just go away on its own?) I’ve seen people online scoff at the kids, their idealism, their activist-speak, their self-seriousness, their supposed cluelessness and lack of geopolitical sophistication--there’s a Babylon Bee headline circulating about Netanyahu being convinced to resign because of the encampments. But if these protests are really such a joke, why bother trying to maim the organizers?

Read MaxWhat I'm reading about student protests, a nerdy period drama about watch-making and anarchism, and a cool Celtic folk-jazz albumGreetings from Read Max HQ, and welcome to our weekly roundup column, in which I pick out some worthwhile and often overlooked books, articles, movies, and music to recommend to paying subscribers. For this week’s round-up, I’ve got: A roundup of smart and interesting pieces about the encampments on college campuses and the violent administrative response…Read more5 days ago · 21 likes · 6 comments · Max Read

Michaelangelo Matos: BC073 - Five Mixes: My Nominees for the National Recording Registry, 1974-2001

I didn’t know anything about the National Recording Registry, so I found this piece on the Library of Congress’ sound-recording arm fascinating on the very basic level of, “Wow, who knew?” But I also love Matos’ arguments for these canonical DJ mixes as pieces of recorded history that deserve a place in the archive.

Beat ConnectionBC073 - Five Mixes: My Nominees for the National Recording Registry, 1974-2001For years, I have had a low-level but persistent obsession with the National Recording Registry (NRR). Established in 2000, and first selected in 2002 by the Library of Congress, the NRR aims to collect sound recordings that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically important” to the history and life of the United States. The NRR’s aims are vast—an…Read more4 days ago · 3 likes · Michaelangelo Matos

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Futurism Restated #61: Ghosts, Dream Walkers, and the Dead (7)

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