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Artist Profile: Terre Thaemlitz
- Tamara Palmer

In Underground News, Issue #19, June, 1994.


Ambient music has not had a boisterous presence in New York nightlife, but perhaps that is because flamboyance and noise are anathema to the underlying manifesto of the genre: I think, therefore I ambient. It is a realm in which the mind commands the body and the workout yields thoughts and images rather than sweat. Putting a wrinkle in the brain without flattening the body.

Lurking beneath the Big Apple's pervasive house beats is a young man who is an instrumental part of this smaller scene. Terre Thaemlitz, who thinks he's 26, leads the way in giving a voice to the genre of tranquillity, both as an ambient DJ and recording artist. His first single under the name Comatonse.000 entitled "Raw Through a Straw" on his own Comatonse Recordings caught the attention of the likes of Bill Laswell and Mixmaster Morris with its enveloping bass, strangely haunting ambiance, and violent waves of improvisational piano. Their interest in Thaemlitz has manifested itself in an upcoming remix of Material's "Eternal Drift" on Axiom and an ambient gig with Morris in New York, with the promise of further collaborations to come. His presence in the deep ambient clubs also piqued the interest of Instinct Records, who has featured him on two compilations (with one more in the works) and is preparing to launch his first full-length, entitled Tranquilizer.

Migrating to the city from the fabulously repressive Ozarks, where he spent his teenage years, Thaemlitz began a study of visual arts and critical theory at The Cooper Union. Dubbing himself DJ sprinkles, he began spinning deep house on the midtown drag circuit, but eventually found himself drawn to a more mellow and electronic sound. Thaemlitz quit spinning in 1992 to concentrate on creating his own music, finding that his best forms of expression came not in text and images but in sounds. He eventually was lured back to the wheels of steel, this time as an ambient DJ. "When Electric Lounge Machine [ELM] started doing New York's first all-ambient events, they began playing my tracks from tape," he states, "Pretty soon they asked me to guest DJ. ELM was more about sound and vibe than anything else, so we played a lot of eclectic records. Traditional chill room spinning, but a little edgey." He continues to be a part of ELM events, now known as Departure Lounge, as well as various one-off events. July's New Music Seminar, to be held in New York, is going to be an exciting time for Thaemlitz, and he speaks eagerly of many possibilities and surprises to unfold that week to highlight the city's ambient presence.

The exposure to a diverse set of sounds, beginning from the forced violin training he endured as a kid, the "three eternal constants" of music in his life - namely Haruomi Hosono and Yellow Magic Orchestra, Kraftwerk, and Kool & the Gang ("Pre-J.T.", Thaemlitz makes sure to clarify), and the experimental freedom of the ELM events has left an indelible mark on his creations. One need only compare the deepness of "Tranquilizer"; with the electro-funk of "Freakazoids and Robots" to understand that Thaemlitz cannot be pigeonholed. When asked, "what is ambient?", his answer reflected an emphasis on not categorizing, in allowing the music to explore abstract forms of ideas: "Particularly in the U.S., everything is split into black and white binaries of true/false, yes/no, Democrat/Republican, Coke/Pepsi, McDonald's/Burger King, when peoples' life experiences reflect a lot of grey, simultaneity, and contradiction. I think ambient, with its incorporation of mechanical and environmental noises, as well as chaos and repetitious structure, allows for more than just a binary correct/incorrect interpretation of a track. Listeners are encouraged to acknowledge their contexts as extensions of a track's production." Taking a jab at our stereotypical notions of ambient, he paused, saying, "Uh, maybe I shoulda just said 'drug music'."