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Terre Thaemlitz/Means From An End
Mille Plateux - 1998
- David J. Opdyke

In AmbiEntrance, May 16, 1998.


Terre Thaemlitz's newest release takes the musical concept of "experimental" quite literally. I have to say it's a fascinating bit of theory and execution, if not always exactly "listenable". Call it an electroacoustique socio-science project...

Thaemlitz endeavors to study social contextualization via sound distortion and (humorously convoluted) academi-speak; while I believe his tongue is in cheek to a large degree, there are indeed valid issues being addressed. To get a more detailed idea of where this release is coming from, one can always refer to the extensive, academically-styled liner notes, learning, for instance, that these recordings are designed to contribute to a developing discourse of the notion of cultural processes which actively engage a multiplicity of constructed contents.

Tracks 1 - 7, inelegant implementations are similar in that all consist of generic jazz edits which are subjected to the "inelegant implementation of control filters during resynthesis without regard to preserving the integrity of the original sound sources"... or to put it another way, seven two-minute-long lite jazz snippets are violently warped by wicked sonic distortions. Conceptually the pieces represent cultural distortions and feedback, rendered here via computerized waveform re-synthesis of leftist political dialogue and popular media phrases. (If nothing else, one could use these tracks as a practical joke; Slip this into your least favorite stereophile's CD player and watch their heart burst through their chest as they hear what sounds like their speakers being utterly annihilated.) An interesting concept, but definitely not easy listening...

Tracks 8 - 11 are subcategorized as resistance to change. The goal of this experiment is to "edit, filter and resynthesize a 'politically regressive' pop standard...", and thusly, Billy Joel's I Love You Just the Way You Are is subjected to Thaemlitz' sonic scalpel. I was laughing out loud at the entire concept and treatment; I love it! (Again, refer to the liner notes for the thorough discussion of Rationale). Sound-wise, a hyper-accelerated voice reads off an overview of social dynamics, while in the background snippets of Joel's song are sliced, diced, mixed and remixed. Bits of Billy waft about in a miasma of sound, which, against Terre's hypothesis (at least in my case), did not trigger an overtly nostalgic desire for the original source.

The only track not treated "scientifically" is still life w/numerical analysis which is instead defined as "a brief moment of introspection". Clicking switches, electrical buzzes and canned laughter are just some of the predominant sound sources which interject upon the distorted musical elements. Spookily unsettling, this piece would have fit very well on Thaemlitz' 1995 Soil.

The goal of the 31.5-minute-long, 6-part exercise means from an end is to "combine diverse processes which illustrate, to varying degreees, sounds' relationships to site, discourse and catharsis"...which I suppose it does. Means from an End (the longest individual "track" at 10:28) introduces lengthy, sustained high frequencies over a softly drifting backdrop. Thaemlitz admits that during the production process, prolonged exposure to this track could cause nausea, nervousness, and/or mild disorientation, though in normal listening it's not that bad, and really can grow on the listener.

Reduction of Contents literally reduces the various source contents into a windy drone (which I find quite nice just to mindlessly soak in). Reintroduction of Contents I reverts to loopings of Part 1's material. Means to a Means introduces new elements including a male speaking voice and a processed "female" humming. It flows relatively peacefully until shifting phases of distortion erupt in a cresendo, then all returns to its quite beautiful "normal" state.

The shortest single "track" at 0.34", Reintroduction of Contents II allows quick glimpses of the source material in a rapid-fire burst of snippets. Finally, Means to a Means punctuates "string" electronics with regularly-occurring mechanized whistle bursts and pounding machine sounds... "manifesting the desire for a construct of mometary closure".

I can't say I always "get" it, but, upon examination, have grown much more appreciative of this work than I would have at first thought possible... I do have to say Terre Thaemlitz has put a lot of brainpower (albeit twisted) into this disc. I also have to say he's got a lot of balls to release something so blatantly challenging in this era of political correctness/user-friendliness, and more power to him for it!

One thing is definite; Terre Thaemlitz will never be accused of pandering to the masses! I'm afraid the average (i.e. passive) listener will quickly give up on means from an end; but when one gives ample time and thought to the project, it can be quite rewarding. One analytical Thumb Up!

This review posted May 16, 1998

For a closer look at the mind behind this work, please refer to the Exclusive AmbiEntrance Terre Thaemlitz Interview, then visit Terre's own Comatonse Records website.