Electronic music can be annoyingly metaphysical. Just when you’re getting into your dancefloor groove, a nerdy trainspotter pushes past you to see what record the DJ is playing, or to see what software is on the laptop. “It’s Process Not Substance” was a notable 1999 techno track by Stewart Walker; whether or not the title was ironic, it applies to much of electronic music. After all, it’s a genre named for its means of production. Promo sheets trumpet the latest production techniques, and often read like museum placards. With a white-on-white canvas, does it matter how the artist made it?
German producer Jan Jelinek has caused much ink to be spilled about process. His 2001 album Loop-finding-jazz-records reconfigured dusty old jazz records into digital glitchy dub, while 2003’s La Nouvelle Pauvrete applied similar micro-sampling techniques to rock and pop sources. Jelinek also makes marginally more dancefloor-friendly material as Farben and Gramm, but throughout his work runs the thread of modern glitch, the snaps, crackles, and pops of intentionally broken audio. While most glitch albums have been low-key, their stillness is often tense, repressed, betraying bleary-eyed nights in front of computers, with carpal tunnel syndrome lurking nearby.
Thankfully, Kosmischer Pitch (“Cosmic Pitch”) doesn’t require reading to enjoy it. For starters, it’s not the usual minimal, chin-stroking fare. In fact, it’s downright lush, layering processed samples, abstract ambience, unobtrusive beats, and the requisite glitchy noises. Tracks start small, and gradually bloom into colorful, complex settings. “Universal Band Silhouette” teases with two minutes of reversed, undulating audio before dropping with spare 808 beats and poppy dominant 7th chords. “Im Diskodickicht” shuffles through wobbly textures, while “Vibraphonspulen” is a shimmering, dark depiction of a pastoral, cricket-filled night. “Lithiummelodie 1” rides quietly anthemic guitars through a stream of chirps and scrapes, and “Planeten in Halbtrauer” recalls classic Tricky with more looped, processed guitars.
It’s easy to surrender to the soundscapes here, until one realizes that these aren’t sounds quite like how they’re usually heard. That’s not a guitarist playing those chords—it’s a sampled guitar retriggered repeatedly, starting in the middle of the sample. In other words, the sound doesn’t start at its beginning. You don’t hear the attack of the strum, but you get enough of the decay to realize that it’s a guitar. Jelinek constantly exploits this space between the beginnings and ends of sounds, finding the soul between the 0’s and 1’s, and giving Kosmischer Pitch a foreign-but-familiar feeling.
In late ‘05 and early ‘06, Jelinek will take this record on the road with a guitarist and a drummer. This is an interesting proposition, as of course humans can physically start sounds only at their beginning. The trainspotters will be out inquiring over not only software plug-ins, but also string gauges and amp setups. Ignore them, and stand back to find the best place between the speakers.