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Not your father’s jazz
Terre Thaemlitz talks about mixing jazz and dance beats on his exciting new CD
- Reviewed by Margaret Coble

From The Advocate, December 19, 2000. Coble edits Dance Music Authority magazine.


“You have no idea how many writers, straight and gay press, still start their articles, ‘Terre Thaemlitz is a gay musician,’ ” says the Oakland, Calif.–based audio experimentalist, DJ, producer, and composer-philosopher, whose latest double-CD release is provocatively titled Fagjazz. “I am definitely queer-identified as opposed to gay-identified. The majority of my projects deal with complications of the straight versus gay dichotomy, which I find an oversimplification of sexuality—and neither of which adequately reflects my ‘bad object choices.’”

The Midwestern-born and -bred Thaemlitz first became fascinated with the intersection of cultural theory, identity politics, and electronic music as a student at New York City’s Cooper Union School of Art in the late 1980s. By the early ’90s he’d developed a following as the infamous DJ Sprinkles in midtown Manhattan’s underground drag scene, and in 1992 he launched Comatonse Recordings to showcase his fledgling production efforts. Since then, he’s churned out an impressive body of critically acclaimed ambient and electronic work on Comatonse and a host of other obscure imprints.

Intent on creating an “audio dialogue” with the listener, Thaemlitz accompanies every recording with lengthy, almost academic liner notes that explore the conceptual content of his lyricless and often abstract digital compositions. Fagjazz is no different; its slick, Asian-style packaging cheekily takes on issues within jazz music, the music industry, and sexuality. Even the title plays on the fact that the word fag can also mean cigarette.

Fagjazz is about the illusion of an acoustic improvisational jazz moment,” Thaemlitz says. “Typically, jazz and improvisation are associated with spontaneity and naturalness. Here I am using digital composition to create the illusion of something live and natural. Taking that natural thing, deconstructing it, and representing it through very constructive means is kind of parallel to the idea of representational sexuality.”

That being said, Fagjazz also manages to cull some of Thaemlitz’s prettiest and most accessible electronic soundscapes from his Comatonse output, most of which has never before been available on CD. Tracing his interest in jazz-based deep house music as both a producer and remixer, disc 1 opens with the delicate ambient piece “Pretty Mouth (He’s Got One),” and moves through one mesmerizing, beat-fueled composition after another. The slick house of “Deep Space Probe” and “Thirty Shades of Grey” wouldn’t be out of place in an underground dance club, while the five-minute ambient intro of “She’s Hard” and the abstract drum-and-bass of “Turtleneck” require more careful listening to digest. Meanwhile, disc 2’s hour-long “Superbonus” drives home Thaemlitz’s theoretical premises via a fictional story line provided in the liner notes.

“I’ve lost that idyllic goal of having everyone understand what I do,” Thaemlitz concedes when asked what he thinks the average listener takes away from his recordings. “That’s why I try to create all these different layers, so that people can ‘get’ different parts. I’m not terrified at the fact that there are people out there who just want to space out to my music.”