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Terre Thaemlitz Artist Profile
- Ron Schepper

In, March 9 2003.


Minnesota-born Terre Thaemlitz is an experimental electronic artist who has been releasing ambient and DSP music since 1993 on labels like Instinct, Mille Plateaux, Caipirinha, and his own Comatonse label. In 1986, he moved to New York City to study at the Cooper Union School of Art, where his preoccupation with issues of cultural theory and identity politics flowered. He relocated in 1997 to Oakland, California, and moved again in 2001 to Kawasaki, Japan where he currently resides. Initially establishing a reputation as DJ Sprinkles in New York's underground clubs, he began in 1992 to focus on creating his own compositions. Around this time, he also started the label Comatonse Recordings (pronounced "coma-tones"); arguably the most notable Comatonse release to date is Fagjazz, a double CD that compiles vinyl tracks, new material, and an hour-long piece that digitally creates the illusion of a live jazz improvisational ensemble (and which, incidentally, won an honorable mention in the 1999 Ars Electronica).

Two releases on Instinct, 1994's Tranquilizer and 1995's Soil, brought Thaemlitz initial attention, but it was the 1997 releases Die Roboter Rubato (Mille Plateaux), Couture Cosmetique (Caipirinha), and G.R.R.L. (Comatonse) that garnered wider acclaim. Thaemlitz created the resonating pianistic interpretations of Kraftwerk compositions on Die Roboter Rubato by playing the melodies one note at a time, and then using the computer to layer, invert, and reverse the melodies. The Die Roboter Rubato recording offered immediate evidence of Thaemlitz's unique talents and imagination, its success leading to similar treatments of songs by Gary Numan (Replicas Rubato, 1999) and Devo (Oh, no! It's Rubato, 2001).

However, it is Thaemlitz's digital synthesis and electroacoustic music that is arguably most important and influential. These works are less concerned with conventional melody and more preoccupied with sound texture and manipulation of existing and digitally-generated source materials. Beginning in 1997 with Couture Cosmetique, his work over time has become increasingly complex and sophisticated, as evidenced by 1998's Means From an End, 1999's Love for Sale, 2000's Interstices, and 2003's Lovebomb, all released on Mille Plateaux, as well as 1998's Institutional Collaborative with Jane Dowe, a university-based computer music producer. Couture Cosmetique alternates low-level ambient computer sounds with abrupt, severe ruptures of mechanical noise. The stunning Means From an End represents a notable advancement in processing techniques and ideas. For example, Thaemlitz digitally re-synthesizes Billy Joel's 'Just the Way You Are' to a point of near-unrecognizability, the intent being to generate a restructuring of the original while retaining vestiges of it to induce a nostalgic listening response. Love for Sale deals with issues of Queer identities, commodification, and the mainstream incorporation of Gay and Lesbian cultures. Given that an 'interstice' refers to the gap or space between an object, Interstices' notions of transgenderism and intersexuality are aurally represented by editing out the vocals from snippets of popular music sources in order to call attention to the melodies left behind. Lovebomb manages the impressive feat of maintaining the high standard established by its predecessors. Thaemlitz argues that beating beneath the heart of protestations of love is its corrupt cousin, hate, hence the term 'Lovebomb.' The recording itself is a remarkably sequenced aural travelogue of speech samples, piano pieces, processed sounds, and digital composition.

Thaemlitz's recordings are accompanied typically by challengingly dense theoretical writings. These notes could be misconstrued as pretentious or indoctrinaire, but Thaemlitz intends for them to not only contextualize his music but to complete the listener's experience. His belief that his music is illuminated by the texts' accompaniment is a conviction shared by Mille Plateaux's Achim Szepanski who has included Thaemlitz's voluminous notes with the numerous MP releases. In these texts, Thaemlitz explores passionately ideas associated with postmodernism, contemporary critical theory, queer issues, and transgenderism. For example, he challenges the notion of the Modernist ideal of an essentializing sound, one 'outside' contextuality, and argues instead for meanings firmly situated in theoretical and sociological contexts. His interest in transgenderism similarly stems from a belief in anti-essentialism, the idea that identity is more fluid, complex, and amenable to change as well as multiplicity. The theme of liberation from prevailing circumstances and dominant ideologies, be they sociological-, gender-, or music-based, is a constant, major theme in his work.

Quick Facts:

Artist: Terre Thaemlitz

Location: Kawasaki, Japan

Style: Ambient 'rubato' piano recordings, experimental electroacoustic works

Labels Appeared On: Instinct, Mille Plateaux, Caipirinha, Comatonse Recordings

Web site:

Essential: Die Roboter Rubato (1997), Means From an End (1998), Lovebomb (2002)