Thanks in part to Montreal's annual electronic music festival, MUTEK, the city is quickly becoming known as one of North America's premier centers for experimental techno. Montreal is also home base for some of the continent's fiercest DJs -- selectors like Algorithm and Mike Shannon who rock three-turntable sets with the flick of a finger. It's no surprise, then, that Force Inc -- the Frankfurt-based techno conglomerate that includes the Mille Plateaux, Ritornell, and Forcelab imprints -- recently located its North American offices in the Canadian city and chose Algorithm (aka Jeff Milligan) to record a mixed-set of all eight Forcelab singles. Featuring releases by experimental techno stalwarts (and Bay Area heavies) Sutekh, Safety Scissors, Matmos, and Kid606, the label's catalog makes a perfect match for Algorithm's grinding minimalism.
But The Forcelab Edition: Composure is no standard mix-CD. Algorithm's multilayered approach combines "straight" DJ mixing with extensive post-production, carving the original recordings into numerous blocks of sound and then looping and rearranging them. Algorithm even folds previously unreleased digital audio files into the mix, occasionally playing eight different Forcelab tracks in tandem. All of this might sound like mere technobabble if the hourlong mix didn't sound unique. Instead of the usual track-segue-track sequence punctuated with builds and obvious blends, the mix-CD offers a long chain of percussive grooves that circles back upon itself, seemingly freezing time in the process. Because of the density of the edits, hardly anything recognizable is preserved from the original tracks; instead, the thudding beats and crackling ticks whirl in a shuddering, chugging stew. The flow morphs so gradually that only by skipping backward and forward between the cue points can you tell the mix has changed at all.
That seamlessness is Composure's strength and its downfall. The character of the music -- gritty, glitch-ridden, and largely atonal -- changes so little that by the end of the mix even the most die-hard aficionado of the genre will yearn to change the tempo and texture. But Composure is still a bold move forward. Richie Hawtin received endless props for his album DE9: Closer to the Edit, on which he used a specialized software/hardware product called Final Scratch to merge digital files with vinyl records, but Algorithm proves that all you need is off-the-shelf gear, a little ingenuity, and a lot of patience to mess with the DJ mix template. His innovative spirit should come as no surprise, though, since Algorithm hails from a DJ crew so creative they've been known to halt skipping turntables by placing pillows beneath the decks -- in midmix! Now that's composure.
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