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Acid flashbacks

Tony Herrington

“Will anybody under the age of 40 get that joke?” asks David Toop in the new March issue of The Wire, referring to the title of FennO’Berg’s In Stereo album. I’m a long way over the wrong side of 40, but still I ain’t laughing, mainly because, as David hints in his review of the record, In Stereo represents something of a muted return on the part of the original Powerbook trio. But the appearance of the album, not to mention its rather humdrum punning title, sends me back to a couple of unvoiced, and quite possibly half-arsed, notions that were prompted by the release of one of 2009’s most audacious records of digital sound processing, one which wipes the floor with In Stereo in terms of its conceptual rigour, and which happened to contain a pun in the title that could be got by at least three generations of electronic music aficionados.

Apart from being genuinely funny, not to mention an accurate indicator of what the actual music might sound like, as an album title, Acid In The Style Of David Tudor was a genius piece of sloganeering on the part of Florian Hecker. Talk about encapsulating the complex social and aesthetic evolution, not to mention the psychological make up, of an entire scene in one fell swoop. I didn’t know he had it in him, but Florian nailed the trajectory of a generation of current electronic music practitioners, who came of age in the long 80s afterburn of Industrial culture, were animated by rave’s psychotronic machine music and the systematic praxis of the first wave of post-war electronic music pioneers, and are now forwarding the march of digital sound out of the basements and the clubs and into the private gallery spaces of the 100 mile city.

In this regard, Florian himself could the archetype, the classic case study. But I suspect that Peter Rehberg and possibly also Christian Fennesz might recognise aspects of their own back stories in such a formulation. Jim O’Rourke too, if you factor out the rave connection, although Jim is perhaps more an example of those other dominant models in contemporary experimental digital sound work, the autistic autodidact, the perverse polymath. Certainly the music these three make together on In Stereo sounds like it could have been produced by individuals who once stalked the warehouse parties of Northern Europe in TG inspired leathers and combats but now slouch around the bright white interiors of sonic art biennials dressed in Paul Smith suits and charcoal grey shirts buttoned to the neck, no tie.

But there was an irony at the centre of Florian’s concept, in that David Tudor beat him to it by about three decades. Tudor’s 1976 piece Pulsers was described by the composer as an exploration of “the world of rhythms created electronically by analog, rather than digital, circuitry”. More to the point, it sounds weirdly like Marshall Jefferson, the Acid pioneer, getting to grips with the idiosyncracies that had been accidentally hardwired into the Roland TB-303, the Acid Machine itself.

In the sleevenotes to the 1996 Lovely Music CD Three Works For Live Electronics, which contains a version of Pulsers that was originally released on LP in 1984 and was assembled and mixed by Tudor with Nicolas Collins, John Cage’s favourite piano player writes: “With analog circuitry, the time-base common to the rhythms can be varied in many different ways by a performer, and can eventually become unstable.” Jefferson’s first record proper, released in 1985 (a year after Pulsers) under the name Virgo, was titled “Go Wild Rhythm Track”, so I reckon Chicago’s experimental House authority could get to that.

Several minutes into Pulsers, a tape of Takehisa Kosugi improvising on an electronic violin is inserted into the mix, and all of a sudden the track sounds more like Henry Flynt jamming with the Drummers of Burundi. But play the first few minutes of it back to back with Sleezy D’s Marshall Jefferson-produced “I’ve Lost Control” back to back with any of the tracks on Acid In The Style Of David Tudor and don’t tell me you can’t hear some occluded synchronicities rearing up to wipe the smirk off Florian Hecker’s face (unless that irony was intended, of course, in which case Florian is even smarter than I thought).