Friday, January 21, 2011

Str8 Sounds sparse CD PREVIEW

An Exclusive Interview with Str8 Sounds

by Lester Spurlanger

Slamp! Magazine (UK), the world's premiere techno rave, space drone, and ambient dance journal.

Exploration Beyond Time by str8sounds

Spanish Portals by str8sounds

Program Guide by str8sounds

Phoenix feat. Eshar by str8sounds

Well, folks, it's here -- the eagerly anticipated "departure project" by Str8 Sounds. Promising to blaze a fiery trail through the thickets of unexplored territory, "Sparse" is one colossal (monolithic in effect while multi-dimensional in essence) milestone in the field of electronic music.

Think of it as an off-kilter blend of The Orb, Spacemen 3, Plastikman, and A Silver Mt. Zion / Godspeed You Black Emperor.

Or what the Twilight Zone would be if it was a oscillating ring modulator played by a theremin-slinging straw mannequin at a square dance.

In keeping with Joseph Faber's Talking Machine (1845) (SEE PHOTO ABOVE), which "consisted of a bizarre-looking talking head that spoke in a weird, ghostly monotone as Faber manipulated it with foot pedals and a keyboard", and through a system of just 16 notes blown through a robotic vocal array, could reproduce the human speech of any European language, this new Str8 Sounds album is no bland derivative of pop formalism, nor any other explicable auditory tradition. 

'Sparse' is accomplished, ironically for a minimalist endeavor, in the neo-maximalist mode, with restricted track agglomeration. 'Sparse' throws the listener some sonic curve balls, but not without euphoric undertones and after-auras. What a tepid and utopic assembly of otherworldy cave harps and banjolins, cellophonic tone grinders, paper trumpets, and audio velocity vitalizers, resounding with extraordinary acoustic depth and residual scale dynamics.

When you obtain a recording like this, on an old fashioned audio CD, you must hurry home, turn on your stereo system, turn up the volume, open your ears...and LISTEN.

Sit there and stare at the sounds pulsating from the troubled speakers.

Go with the flow and get lost in the genius of it all, the conceptual beauty of the lilting passages, the surging diversions and explosive pounding, beating and thumping, in perfect quadrophonic high fidelity.

Brutal at times, then suddenly gentle and floating, while depicting every scene and spectrum in between: from classical orchestras to hard rock, then off into soaring techno majestics, brilliantly inundating the spaceflight of a trillion galactic bandwagons triumphing in amusia delirium.

Which basically means fewer instruments and reduced audio information, not as much the standard muddy assault of hoots, warblings, and wails, menacing the walls with pyramidic echo-flares, blaring discordantly in a wild abandon over distorted sine wave generators and cacaphonic sound devices squawking, squelching, and dangerously short-circuiting, an unseemly and ungainly exaggeration-for-effect, an overloaded near-redundant display, competing for attention bedlam, all at the same time, until it morphs into a transient silent spot or an unenveloped din.

Did he run out of ideas? Was Str8 Sounds techno music too mainstream?

What are we to make of this self-confessed act of creative desperation, his emphatic retreat into the unfamiliarity of abandoned methodologies? How else to explain the jolting and pompous orchestrations, the cascading collisions of overly lucid stereophonic hubris, roughly hewn (as in sterile stone) or smoothly stitched (as with darning needle and elastic thread) into the undulating stratified fabric of this medley of long meanderings?

Listen to the luxurious tone spacing and malingering reverse synthesis in "Sparse" and feel the STR8 SOUNDS machine hovering more gently over the barren vicinity, moving closer to the bleak rhythmic patterns of hard ambient doodling.

In short, STR8 SOUNDS "Sparse" is a collection of musical novelty that's not easy to ignore or forget.

Using the Joseph Faber Talking Machine (1845) as the visual symbol of ascetic composition, this delightful album sends electricity and sound waves sprawling across the essential autoscopic range of machine feeling.

"We're trying to capture, tame, and exhibit an audio representation of the broad spectrum of  electroplasmic emotions that are integral to machines and computers," Steven Streight, infamous leader of the STR8 SOUNDS, or just THE SOUNDS (as impudent fans truncate the band's name, to speed conversation).

I asked him about that.

"Are you comfortable with the truncation your fans use to refer to your music ensemble, which is mainly you?"

"No," he said, then fell silent. A strange air of enforced self-protective sobriety seemed to cast a pallmall murkiness over almost the entire room.

Streight grimaced, swatted at a fly I could not see, then slumped in his chair and slowly stared at the floor for a while, scratching his left knee until I thought it would fall off and become a hockey puck type obstacle that someone, myself included, could easily mistake as a stationary lump on the floor, a fixed swelling, not slippery, and then, with that misguided assumption in mind, boldly, albeit defiantly, step on it to be done with it, like it was a stepping stone, a one step staircase, a slightly elevated protrusion, serving as a speed bump, only to step and slide, slipping wildly, then flipping violently, abruptly, tragically, both feet waggling upwardly, unexpectedly in the air, landing hard on their bottom part.

Eventually he looked up at me, still scratching that damn knee of his, the right one this time, over and over, digging into it like there was no tomorrow, I thought I saw smoke and sparks flying, vigorously, abrasively, to the point that I was now sure some real, permanent, irreversible damage was bound to occur. 

His reply left his mouth sluggishly, a difficult word followed, reluctantly, by a reticent word, tortured off the tongue, laboriously articulated, with long professorial pauses, one slow syllable followed hesitantly, uncertainly, by the next, like an impromptu orator who edits his tentative mental text as he lethargically produces it inwardly and cautiously speaks it outwardly, painstakingly constructing each  minute particle of every micro module, like they were certain to be quoted by future generations of baffled critics and admiring fans.

"I understand that in the age of Twitter, vehicular operation texting, and blind status updates, one must abbreviate, trim, condense to near-oblivion, occasionally, verging close to utter meaninglessness, or at least mistaken implications and slipshod hermeneutics, to make the message (stripped of adjectival accuracy and barbarically garbled as it may be) fit a limited space, or, more precisely, a constrained number of characters," Streight mumbled.

By "vehicular operational texting" I understood him to refer to people who send text messages from their cell phones to other cell phones, as a crude means of interacting with them in a reckless manner that was not without its seductions and charms, but could be disastrous, infortuitous, even fatal, when this behavior is performed while driving a car. But "blind status update" was a bit harder of a nut to crack.

"Blind status updates?" I asked, being a journalist with extremely high standards. I wanted to be sure I heard him right. And if a status update could be blind, my readers needed to know about it.

"Firing into the dark," he replied. "Whistling past a graveyard. You don't know who is receiving your messages. You friend people you barely know, old high school pals who have become dark and insane, or some person who requested to be your friend and you were to busy to check their profile closely. It's like your on the phone with an intimate companion or confidante, but you've got the speaker hooked up, so others can listen in."

I could see his social media musings and analytical theorizing about networks was getting us nowhere. We had wandered off topic, wretchedly far from the main subject. I needed to seize control, even if a precarious grip was all I could manage, of this wayward meandering of tangents, and make a swift if clumsy return to the intended conversational thread.

"What would you like to say to your fans about your new CD?" I ventured, hoping he'd take the bait.

"I love this new album, 'Sparse', and I think my fans, long-term loyalists and new devotees, will fall in love with it too! I took some artistic risks and made some controversial aesthetic decisions, but I also put a lot of heart into this one."

It was easy to see he was pulling my leg, quoting all the trite gibberish the teeny bopper bands spout for MTV and VH1, trying to be overbearingly obnoxious. I knew what he was doing, but I dared not interrupt. He continued in the same vein.

"I think it's the best thing I've done since whatchamacallit, that last horrible album I did, I forget the title of it right now, that everybody hated. 'Sparse' represents a futile and panic-stricken return to audio collage and sine wave malformatting. Segues are in the spotlight once again, along with changes and fades, and the professionalism is on a whole new level, where reflexive memorability is not just a slogan, but a reality. I make a lot of very personal statements in these songs, dealing with issues I'm concerned with and experiences I've had recently," he smirked.

I knew the sick game he was playing, wasting my time with it. He was paraphrasing other music artists, making fun of them, imitating the trivial epiphanies they tend to present in response to curiosity in a new project, thereby totally evading the core of my query.

"If one more music artist says they love their new album," I said sourly, "I'm going to punch myself in the face!"

"Yeah, they never say: it's okay, but not nearly as polished and dancey as my previous work, so I suppose this new album is for completists only, those fanatic collectors who absolutely must own every title, just so they can brag about having it all." Streight was agreeing with me, but why did he parody this annoying characteristic, which just made it hurt all the more?

"This interview is over," he said and handed me the CD. "Listen to it in the context of the artistic problem I was attempting to solve, and only secondarily according to how it makes you feel. It's real aim is to correspond, not to human feelings, but to the sensitivities of the artificial world, the autonomous, self-regulating machine entity. Arrive at, and archive, your own conclusions as to what 'Sparse' is – and if it works.”

There he goes again, calling everything a machine, stretching analogy and metaphor to the breaking point, I thought quietly to myself.

"Machine emotions?" I yelled at his back as he sauntered off into the freezing cold night. It was now 3:30 AM. Streight had just burned the first few CDs of the new album, and I was one of the first to receive one. "Come on! You expect us to take you seriously? How can machines feel anything? They aren't alive. They aren't conscious personalities. They may pursue goals and be self-originating, but they can't be happy or sad or in love. Can they? You, obviously, are saying they can and do. You're expressing machine emotions in your music?"

"That's right," he said, and no more. That was all I was able to extract from this mysterious character. But somehow I felt, it was enough.

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