Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead inverts Shakespeare’s classic Hamlet by thrusting two of its minor characters into protagonist roles. The original’s main characters recede into lesser parts, their scenes becoming fragments. Stoppard’s absurdist play magnifies seemingly insignificant narrative elements, providing the audience with a peculiar, though compelling, angle. The play transforms the insignificant into the crucial.
London-based producer Gaudi has taken a similarly unconventional approach. His latest, Magnetic, favors prominent drum and bass sections while lead instruments sit low in the mix. Like Stoppard, Gaudi compels the listener to focus on elements often taken for granted. The interplay between the drum and bass forms the heart of the album, a painstakingly crafted resonant pulse delivering a visceral, exciting listen.
Gaudi’s entire career is one long love letter to dub music. Dub, characterized by sparse drums, murky bass, and generous amounts of delay and reverb, emerged from reggae and forms the bedrock of UK grime, has influenced Burial’s brooding, apocalyptic atmospherics, and spawned modern dubstep’s excessive onslaught of aggressive bass assaults. But Gaudi isn’t interested in these developments. He’s content to dig into the classic ‘70s sound.
Though Gaudi’s dub love is heard throughout the majority of his output, Magnetic pulls the influence back a tad, allowing jazz to seep into the album’s crevices, as on tracks like “Electronic Impromptu in E-Flat Minor”, a brooding elegy with one of the album’s rare isolated piano sections. Juicy basslines and metronymic drums stomp through the opening pair of tracks, “30HZ Dub Prelude” and “Opus 12, No.7”, where a piano flits in and out but occupies minimal track time. “Memories in My Pentagram” manages to arrange a theremin, a Jew’s harp, and dissonant, skittering electronics while a Fender Rhodes plays in syncopation, a classic reggae technique also found on the album opener. “Nocturnal Sonata” combines a clean bass sound along with an ambient bass drone awash in effects, a familiar sound used in many contemporary dub techno tracks. Here, a silky bassline drives a sparse, jazzy piano melody, a sporadic billiard break sound effect punctuating the space between piano breaths.
“Modular Rondo” deserves special mention. The furthest stylistically from the other tracks, the standout motorik jam asks Nikolaj Bjerre to keep time with a Minimoog and an Arp 2600. Bjerre’s vigorous drumming feeds the relentless uptempo groove as the analogue synth arpeggios filter deliciously. Listen to this one first.
Part of the album’s winning strategy is that Gaudi chooses the right collaborators. An extremely wide array of musicians feature on the album, like guitar shredder Buckethead, bassist Bill Laswell, Pat Mastelotto (XTC, King Crimson, David Sylvian), Steve Jansen (Japan), Ted Parsons (Killing Joke) and Nikolaj Bjerr (Lamb), just to name a few. Based on the musicians’ diverse backgrounds, it’s remarkable that Magnetic remains as coherent as it is. With the wrong producer the album could easily turn schizophrenic, or worse, degrade into cheese. The album does get close on “Nocturnal Sonata”, during an ecstatic moment crescendo. The production teeters on the edge of the precipice, and one of the two pianists on the track (Gaudi and Mark Aanderud) edge back with their assured, crystalline playing.
All of Magnetic’s tracks except for “Memories in My Pentagram” employ classical music terms: sonata, rondo, opus, impromptu, leitmotif. The piano features prominently, but Gaudi also utilizes vintage synthesizers most familiar to electronic enthusiasts: the Korg MS-20, the Arp 2600, and the industry-defining Minimoog. A theremin also slinks its way into several tracks. Gaudi’s penchant for dub’s loungey, low key vibe, his classical naming convention, and his use of vintage instruments all seem to yearn for a bygone time. But the record is far from a lament—it’s a celebration.
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