Algorithm: Composure

Force Lab

As early as 20 years after his death in 1669, art critics posited that Rembrandt had been using different techniques when it came to his method of placing paint upon canvas. The method of painting had been seen before in other artists, the idea of a relatively thick and worked-over paint surface was nothing new. The degree of thickness, however, was the tip off to art historians that something far more interesting and new was at play in Rembrandt’s work. A famous Dutch art historian in 1686 brought forth the proposition that it might be that Rembrandt worked very slowly and went over certain passages time and again, making them thicker and thicker. In contrast, another critic thought that perhaps Rembrandt worked too fast, slapping his paint on the canvas with a trowel or other similar tool. It was only later, however, that people began to wonder whether Rembrandt was in fact working with more elements than just the normal paint that could be bought in a shop. Maybe it was that Rembrandt was, in fact, mixing additives into his paint, which affected his composition. In the end, however, it only remains clear that Rembrandt was the only well known master painter during this time period that was experimenting with these new methods of working the paint surface.

In this modern day, critics demand clarity as to the process in which an artist goes about making his artwork. We don’t have any mystery as to the process that an artist goes through to make his art, and frequently artists are more than glad to share it with the public, reveling in the cult of the new — “Look at what I’ve done! Bet you never thought of that!” The Mille Plateaux/Force Inc. family of labels has garnered the reputation of making electronic music that is both academic and artistic, frequently focusing on catering to the cult of the new. They make electronic music, sure. But it is electronic music that should be taken seriously with sometimes less of an eye towards the dance floor and more to the home listener. Even with the label offshoots like Ritornell, Position Chrome, Force Lab, and Force Tracks, the listener enters into the music under the impression that this is merely under the umbrella that Mille Plateaux and Force Inc. hold, that the music, while it may be eminently danceable, still holds some of the academic and cold qualities that the major two labels have been known to frequently release.

Ostensibly a dance mix, then, Algorithm’s Composure release for the Force Lab label bears an amount of analysis past the general “Well, it may sound good, but can I dance to it?” question. The method or gimmick, depending on how you look at it, that Algorithm uses in this particular release is similar in its inventiveness to Richie Hawtin’s in his recent DE9: Closer to the Edit. While Hawtin cut up the tracks of his choice into sometimes extremely small loops, building from these loops that he took directly from various tracks he chose, Algorithm takes source material from the previous Force Lab’s vinyl 12″ releases. This source material was mixed one time and then mixed down to single instruments and loops of various lengths. In effect, each particular artist that was used for the mix was remixed and then recombined with other artists. Over 300 loops were eventually used for sixteen tracks. It’s all very confusing, only leaving the listener to wonder whether Algorithm was able to craft something meaningful out of the small pieces that were used to create the larger effect of the mix.

Despite the degree of hype contained in the process used, the mix ends up being merely typical — if not lackluster. The ever-present clicks and pops of any Force Lab release are present, the bass is rooted in the minimalist dub tradition of Pole, and the bass is clinical and impersonal. Far from the soothing rolling basslines of the more popular trance movement, this is music that is chopped to its finest points. A sense of disjointedness lies heavily over the mix, as though the pieces don’t quite fit together correctly. Overall, there seem to be few peaks and valleys here, as most mixes are known for in traditional dance music. Instead of being taken on a journey, the listener is held in a sort of stasis- waiting and willing, while Algorithim delights in the process, somewhat ignoring the overall product.

And that’s what keeps this mix from being a success. The fact that Rembrandt, the master Dutch painter, never lost sight of the overall effect of the painting no matter what technique he used to put the paint on canvas. Above all, Rembrandt was concerned with the overall harmony of the work, as were the Italian Renaissance masters who left no mark of their brush stroke. This seems to be the opposite of what Algoritithm has achieved here. Instead, the focus is on the microscopic process and the slightly disharmonious effect of the whole piece is glossed over. The process, by which it was made, is so entrancing and interesting that the small imperfections can be shrugged off. What made Rembrandt so great was that his hand knew both process and effect and combined them in such a fascinating way, so that the sum was greater than its parts. Algorithm, unfortunately, on this release has merely made two unequal products — and without the gimmick of the process has made only an average mix.