album reviews

7", 10", 12" reviews

compilation reviews

remix reviews


Means from an End
Mille Plateaux 1998
- Sean Cooper

In Urban Sounds, Volume 1, Issue 2, March 1998.


[terre thaemlitz]

Urban Sounds pet artist and recent Left Coast transplant Terre Thaemlitz's ambient abstractions just seem to be getting better and better. Although as much of his recent creative output has involved goofy, dance-based cheek-tonguery (on G.R.R.L. and with bizarre disco terrorists Chugga), Means From an End, his second release through German label Mille Plateaux, is full of the sort of thin, tinny electronics, dark, digital drones and subtle, unsettling juxtapositions that characterize the best of his work in experimental ambient. As with other of Thaemlitz's recent works, Means From an End is loaded heavy with concept; the title refers to the possibilities specific to desktop digital synthesis and production techniques for the recontextualization and redeployment of heavily coded cultural significations. Less up its own ass, this is to say the album engages the sampler with a certain brute force, destratifying the layers of social and cultural meaning associated with particular arrangements of sounds (from post-bop jazz quartets to '70s adult contemporary pop) in order to create new methods of meaning, new possibilities for change.

Although the album undoubtedly succeeds, it's, as usual, far more interesting to consider how it succeeds; Thaemlitz's ability to navigate tough and uncompromising conceptual territory while still producing music both deeply affecting and consistently engaging is remarkable. Indeed, through much of the album, Thaemlitz constructs elaborate relays between his production methods and the range of affective possibilities circumscribed by the tracks. "Resistance to Change" is a wry and particularly illustrative example of this. A fascinating cut-up of Billy Joel's "I Love You Just the Way You Are," Thaemlitz's microscopic pixelations of the pop standard play the not-so-subtle antifeminist politics of its title against a backdrop of seemingly hard-coded nostalgia ultimately disappointed by the hiccuping fragmentation to which Joel's voice and sections of the backing track are gradually reduced. Similarly, "Inelegant Implementations" (probably the disc's toughest listen) yokes in themes of aloof leftist political engagement by revealing the distortions and transubstantiations to which culturally articulated meanings are necessarily subject.

It's the album's title track, however, that leaves the strongest impression. A minimasterpiece of contrasting moods and glossy, peerless electronics, "Means From an End"'s six movements navigate such a range of textural investments and microtonal extrapolations as to be almost emotionally and intellectually exhausting. Comparable to hard disc abusers such as Mika Vainio, Ulf Langheinrich, and Microstoria, Thaemlitz's tack here is to stretch out and break apart the processes of electronic music production in order to demonstrate both the degrees to which those processes acquire residues of meaning irreducible to either utterance or intention, as well as the potential for resistance such instances of semiological nonforeclosure present. Musically, the results are breathtaking, with aching melodic textures constantly frustrated by high-pitched tones, erratic bursts of treated voice, and roiling, intricately detailed digital noise. As with other of his recent works, it's pretty challenging listening. But one expression of the peculiar importance of Thaemlitz's artistry lies in his ability to render that challenge interesting and appealing, a feat he manages here to rare effect. Rating: 8


[means from an end cover]