06/13/2005: "mutek, part 3."
On the last night of Mutek, the big draw for me was Melchior Productions--a.k.a. minimal house producer Thomas Melchior, who records for the mighty Playhouse and Perlon labels. He had an album last year called The Meaning that really crept up on me. On first listen, I wasn't really into it. I mean, 2004 was the year of huge hooks, of electro-house, of slam-you-over-the-face Tiefschwarz and Ivan Smagghe, of Get Physical's glossy, maximalist take on classic Chicago house and the triumphant return of über-rockers Alter Ego and on and on. I wanted to be pounded into submission by dance music, not seduced by subtle slivers of hi-hats. But then I listened to The Meaning again. And again. And again and again. I became completely seduced by those slivers of hi-hats. In a lot of his tracks, he uses brief vocal snippets--usually no more than a second long--but he uses 'em differently from the way someone like (genius) Todd Edwards does, or the way Akufen does. There's loads of space in Melchior's music; it all sounds very airy, no matter how busy the track gets. Part of what fascinates me about minimal dance music is how your brain fills in the blanks of what's not there, using almost no cues--a bit of hi-hat here, a tidbit of vocal there, a smattering of bassline, a teensy bit of melody. It's kinda the same cognitive trick that Scott McCloud talks about in "Understanding Comics," of "closure"--how your brain "finishes" incomplete pictures and figures out what's happening plot-wise in the space between two comic-book panels.
Melchior at Mutek
A few hours after Melchior's set, some dude who was big into drone/psych/noise came up to me and asked me what "the beautiful drone music" a few hours back was. I thought he meant one of the earlier ambient laptop acts, but then I realized he was talking about Melchior's house music. "That was Melchior Productions," I said. "I guess you could say it's drone music." I thought about it for a minute and figured that, genres be damned, they were all really all the same thing, that I loved Phill Niblock and the Boredoms and Neu! and Earth and Indian classical music for the same reasons I loved house music and techno. I got all weepy for a second, like I could see all the music I ever loved swirling in front of me in a single shimmering, luminous vortex. (I was sober, by the way.)
I somehow got into a conversation with Mathew Jonson around now. "You have a track called 'Folding Space,'" I remember saying. "Are you a mathematician?" Or perhaps a physicist. Okay, perhaps I was a little addled by this point. His response was really interesting. He said he had no background in math but that he thought about math a lot, as a lot of musicians do. "It's all very organic," he said. "I can feel math, but I don't really think about it consciously." He said he even had dreams sometimes, about math, and about music. (Yipes. If you ever want to make me swoon, tell me you have dreams about math.) Then he went into this long explanation of how he thinks about music, and how he goes about making tracks. I wish I could remember more of the details. He said he came up with a few of his key tunes by accident--by messing around with lots of different gear, and then doing a lot of editing and cleaning up later. He said he was happiest with "Freedom Engine," the track he started off his Mutek live set with; the weird gloopy melody that sounds like it's being squeezed from all directions comes from layering a bunch of arpeggios on top of each other.
I wasn't so much into the later acts. Soulphiction's wack, eerie-in-a-bad-way vibe, especially, rubbed me the wrong way. I was biding my time for the afterparty. Akufen was slated to play at it. I asked Mathew Jonson if he was going to play at the afterparty, too, which would've made my year. Hell no, he said; he had a flight to catch back to Vancouver at 7 am. Then he relented. "Unless they really need me to," he said. "But probably not."
A bunch of us headed to the afterparty, which was in a loft a few blocks away. It had much more of a gritty, old-school-rave feel to it, sort of what I fantasized Mutek would be like before I went. (I wasn't too keen on the official Mutek venue; it felt too serious and hallowed and arty in there, and, well, too "official.") Anyway, the loft. You took a rickety elevator up, and you got to a white-walled concrete space that was very intimate, with room for maybe 200 people. The big windows were mercifully covered with a big roll of canvas tarp, but there was one window that wasn't covered completely, so you could see the raw early light of morning start to peep through. I felt a little disoriented at first. There was no music yet. Where the hell was Akufen with his records? Then someone whispered in my ear: "Look! Mathew Jonson is setting up."
Over the next three hours, Jonson (aided by The Mole) proceeded to sling the best live set I've heard in forever. It was a lot more heavy and funky and danceable than his Mutek live set, with a good sense of humor to it. There was no pressure here to be 'pushing the boundaries of electronic music' or whatever; the goal here was to rock the goddamn party. And good God, it rocked. He cut up and sliced his own tracks with occasional bits and pieces from old records. Everyone was dancing their hearts out. I don't remember much, just a blur of rose-tinted euphoria, really; at one point I remember standing there, gazing at the tarp-covered windows and hearing
Jonson The Mole suddenly fold in a sample from "Is It All Over My Face?" so it just went
...and I almost lost it, I was so happy to be alive, and there, and dancing, in that space.