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Terre Thaemlitz
1968 - present
Worked: New York, NY, United States: Oakland, CA, United States; Kawasaki/Tokyo, Japan
- Anonymous

Artist profile in Art & Culture Network (, 2003.

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reflection / self-reflection

To call Terre Thaemlitz experimental is a generalization of the worst kind. Thaemlitz is a musical experimenter, to be sure. But he's also a social experimenter, a technological experimenter, and a gender experimenter. Thaemlitz is a philosopher who uses his sonic thinkscapes as social treatises and conceptual springboards.

Though he's been accused of talking like a college professor, Thaemlitz doesn't come from the sober halls of academia. Instead, he's a child of the gender-bending club scene that blossomed in New York in the mid-1980s. Having come from the Midwest to study at the Cooper Union School of Art, Thaemlitz soon took to spinning deep house grooves at transgender clubs (he even won an Underground Grammy Award for best DJ in 1991). Though his roots were on the dance floor, he quickly gained notoriety for complicating house music's straight 4/4 beats with brainy breaks and strange samples. Here was an artist who loved permutation, breaking the boundaries with both his music and his own gender orientation.

In 1992 Thaemlitz retired from clubdom to embark on the "serious" phase of his career: as an avant-garde producer. Chafing against club promoters who tried to pigeonhole his sound, he began creating intentionally disorderly tracks under his own label, Comatonse Records. As he settled into a thoughtful, spacey style, he attracted the notice of Instinct Records and was signed to a multi-record contract.

The full-length album "Tranquilizer" soon debuted with an ambient nametag -– though under scrutiny the work reveals more eclectic influences. The album gained instant renown for its complicated melodies, metallic creaks and clangs, and unpredictable breakbeats. In the mind of Thaemlitz, this studied musical diversity has wider implications: "Basically I've been trying to use sounds as metaphors for alternative strategies for direct social action."

Sometimes Thaemlitz's art gets downright conceptual, as with uncharacteristic works like "Die Roboter Ruboto" and "G.R.R.L." The first is an odd deconstruction of Kraftwerk, satirizing the macho drone of the techno godfathers with a tinkling, feminized piano. Just to make sure that listeners picked up on his gendered subversions, Thaemlitz performed this work in drag. And "G.R.R.L.," a tongue-in-cheek survey of various electronica genres, critiques rigid social categorizations in general. Thaemlitz explains, "It is about trying to find a sense of placement within all of these various audio scenes, which are actually signifiers for identity constructs."

Meanwhile, on his releases from Comatonse, Thaemlitz tests notions of instrumentation itself. His albums "Couture Cosmetique" and "Means from an End" were created almost entirely on computer, without using either traditional or synth instruments. Thaemlitz embraces new digital technologies, feeling that they twist boundaries as effectively as donning high heels. Though these ultra-experimental works do push the envelope, they are not always easy listening –- especially when overlaid with heavy-handed political dialogue. Thaemlitz admits that the ear-splitting frequencies present on the track "Means from an End" could cause "nausea, nervousness, and/or mild disorientation." Surely, Thaemlitz only hopes to induce vomiting with the highest social purposes in mind.

Our Recommended URLs

An Interview with Terre Thaemlitz, Thaemlitz's complex music is the product of a complex mind. In this interview Thaemlitz discusses the heavy concepts that he expresses in his music.

Terre Thaemlitz: Means to an End Interview, AmbiEntrace interviews one of the pioneers of electroacoustique sound. Learn more about his childhood in Missouri and why he hates "real music."

Comatonse Records, It's hard to include any other links about Thaemlitz, because this flower-strewn, condom-decked web site has it all. Thaemlitz's record label offers a bio on the man himself, a well-stocked archive of articles and interviews, info on his recording studio, and RealAudio sound clips. And for the social activist, there's a page called "AIDS 101."