Posts Tagged ‘black sun empire’

obscure beauty from the black sun

August 9, 2009

That title probably made this post sound more interesting than it will actually be.

I’m listening to a song off an E.P. I’ve long wanted to listen to but never had until last week: Black Sun Empire‘s Smoke E.P. on DSCI4.

The track that inspired this blog post was the title track, Smoke. Those who aren’t drum & bass heads might listen and wonder what the big deal was about, whereas drum & bass heads might contemptuously respond simply by asserting that the track is “old” (yeah…so?).

This track is a classic example of the style of tech-step pioneered by DSCI4. It doesn’t necessarily transgress the sort of general boundaries of that style, but I think it does exemplify the style almost perfectly. I love how Black Sun Empire can sit their drums perfectly in the mix; they don’t rely on ultra-compressed, distorted kick and huge snare to carry the entire dynamics of the track, but rather the breaks feel restrained. Instead of feeling cliche, as in many drum and bass tracks, the breaks occupy just enough space to provide structure and flow to what’s happening – and what is happening always involves some melodic intelligence and transition.

After thinking about it, though, I think what most impresses me about Black Sun Empire – and this track in general – is the way they integrate all the elements together in the mixdown. That careful precision of the mixing – to me – is as much an element of style as the aesthetic defined by their choice of samples, especially that definitive sounding stab…and it is this sense of controlled precision (at odds with the sort of menacing ambience so often evoked by the synths / samples they select) that more than anything else at that time evokes techno. (The sharpness of their drum samples and the uber-compressed cymbals that punctuate them have become a much more familiar trope by now, but I think this is something that Black Sun Empire really innovated in many ways).

And plus, this track does something else I love. Listen for the change in the second break right before the bassline comes back in…

This probably sounds overly technical, nerdy, and slightly irrelevant – all of which it is. But the feeling I had that prompted me to write this blog isn’t.

While I have been guilty of it as well (and so I’ll avoid polemicizing overly much), I think there is a widespread conceit (no doubt a proper direction for deconstructive critique) in our culture as I understand it, at least, that holds art – and especially music – to be something that offers an almost mystically transcendent experience…and this is especially evident to me in the way musicians are idealized, as though gifted with some prophetic or visionary insight somehow inexplicably lacking in the rest of us (from John Lennon to Bob Marley to Jim Morrison to 2Pac – not to mention Michael Jackson, there seems to be a cult of personality associated with music almost unparalled by anything else I can think of).

But great music isn’t achieved only through some intangible wellspring of creativity (and I would dispute those who idealize either this supposed “quality” or the process by which it is thought to produce the tangible product we ultimately enjoy so greatly). There is also the (much-reviled) technical knowledge – and experimentation, and innovation and yes, discipline that plays a role. When electronic music is stigmatized or marginalized, I wonder about the extent to which an aesthetic is at play that fetishizes the inexplicability of human processes of expression – and ultimately, I would argue, the human “creator” as well – as privileged agent of creativity. When what is heard is not solely or primarily the result of vibrations produced in a tactile, physical manner by human hands, feet, or breath, but mediated instead by systems of circuitry, software (and furthermore is often comprised of auditory objects already recorded), and sequencing – it would seem that for some, the media produced can no longer unreservedly be regarded as “music.”

And yet, to denigrate electronic music (usually out of ignorance – and perhaps also out of fear?) is to kill the messenger.

Now how the hell did I get on this tangent?

There’s something about the mechanization of rhythm in this Black Sun Empire track on an obscure EP released by DSCI4 in 2002 that is just lovely – and, I think, a precursor of things to come. Now, if you haven’t already, go click the link and listen to it at least once through.

DSCI4

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