Re: ai 2 comp comment, Jeff Mills

From ozymandias G desiderata
Sent Mon, Jan 23rd 1995, 19:39

[I'm cc:ing this to 313, because we think Jeff Mills is pretty neat
over there]

>         I am thinking in particular about the recent work of Jeff Mills and
> Robert Hood.  For those hung-up on the unfortunately necessary labeling of
> techno, (I know, me too) this is for the record, probably not a whole like
> IDM and definitely not characterized by  traditionally "ambient"
> traits.

        I don't mean to pick on you personally here, Matt, but when
was it decided that ambient has any necessary or sufficient connection
to ambient? One of the original IDM "personalities" is Richard James,
and although he seems to get more serious recognition for his ambient
music, he's put out many blisteringly hard tracks as well. In fact,
tracks like "Tamphex", "Phloam", and the Mescalinium United remixes
are my favorite of James' many modes.
        If there are such strong ties between ambient and IDM (and I'd
say that at least a few members of this list seem to think there is),
why bother splitting the ambient list off into its own domain? Does
there have to be at least a little bit of a rhythmic element to a
piece of music to make it IDM instead of ambient? Does it, on the
other hand, have to be "funky" or somehow rhythmically more complex or
slower to separate it from the undifferentiated mass of techno? I
really do wonder sometimes how people separate the intelligent music
from the stupid stuff.
        What I'm getting at is that there really is no charter for
IDM, or if there is one, it's very amorphous. I've been a member for
so long that I can't remember what the welcoming message says, but I'd
wager that we vary widely from the boundaries it sets on a regular
basis. I remember the AI series being one of the prime exemplars of
the IDM sound, but that definition seems too narrow to reflect what we
actually discuss on the list.
        Okay, I went and reread the welcom message, and even the
_welcome_message_ is (purposefully?) vague. What _is_ IDM? Have we
ever really decided on some sort of consensus definition for it? Can
there be one that doesn't piss off at least half of the list? These
are all honest questions. I don't have any pat answers.

> This is short, fast and often very cold techno.  But really nothing like
> the "hardcore" techno I associate with labels like Drop Bass, Re-Load, or
> recent DJAX records.  In short, it's stripped down, darker Detroit, less
> acidic, if acidic at all!   If there is a 303 used at all, it's prob. not
> used in the "typical" acidic way.   A trademark of Mills and Hood is the
> no-nonsense method of getting right to the meat of track, no bullshit, all
> form.

        Reload and Djax are hardcore? Really? The stuff I've heard on
those labels doesn't seem very hard to me at all. They seem to be
pretty much in the Euro-trance / hardhouse / acid house vein to
me. I'd be interested to hear what in their rosters makes them sound
hard to you. Not that I'm saying that I disagree with you, I'm just
curious as to what you've heard that I haven't.
        But I agree that most of Rob Hood and Jeff Mills' music doesn't
fall into any traditional conception of hardcore. It's fast, and it
has lots of shrieking and whistling noises in it, but it also is very
texturally rich and elaborately structured music. X-103 and "The
Extremist" reward very close listening, because of all of the
different layers that Mills put in.

>         Mills and Hood make relatively short tracks (I guess 4-8 minutes
> each, I've never really timed them but 3 can easily fit on one side of a
> 12").  I admire this, I think it's harder to squeeze the essence of a
> techno song under 5 minutes because so much of it depends on intricate
> layers, which are typically "broken down" to appreciate.

        I agree. X-103's "Atlantis" managed to cram a huge number of
ideas into a relatively short 35 minutes. It's actually kind of
painful for me, as a DJ, to try to work with most of Mills'
tracks. (Ideally) he lets a track play just long enough to get the
song's central "idea" across, and then he gets out. Sometimes the idea
doesn't work, like in "Changes of Life," where he looped a bad
happy-house piano chord to death and beyond, but you don't have to
listen to more than three or four minutes of any of his failures.
        The other difficulty I have with mixing Mills' stuff is the
same textural complexity I mentioned above. In several of the mixes of
"The Extremist," it's very difficult to pick out the beat behind all
of the layers of texture and filtering. That song is just plain
_strange_, no matter how you regard it, but it's probably my favorite
track by Mills.

> Mill's "Cycle
> 30" record is characterized by short loops and un-typical structures of
> phasing and out-of-phasing, some weird delays overlapping, but overall less
> "special effects processing," stark beats, more Detroit feel, and no
> warm-long "trancy" chords, and basically un-typical acid, or no acid at
> all.  

        While I substantively agree with you here, I also think it's
worthwhile to note that Mills does heavily process much of his music,
it's just that he does it in a very different way than most other
techno artists. His use of distortion is innovative, for example, and
the way he layers keyboards into a kind of shimmering morass (where
all you can really hear is the whole, and can't reduce it to its
constituent parts) is unique.

>         The beats are un-typical of most techno, no solo 909 kicks at the
> intro, often it usually starts with a short non-percussive loop, then
> perhaps another loops are added (quickly), and it's often hard to tell
> right when the kick drum comes in.  I love that, but *damn* is it hard to
> mix in and out of during a set. 

        Amen to that, but that's what makes them so much fun to _try_
to mix! When it works, it sounds _good_. I've only really pulled off a
good mix with a Mills track one or two times, but those are mixes that
(when I listen to them on tape afterwards) make me feel really good
about being a DJ.

>         Mills and Hood records are not typically "DJ friendly" yet are very
> highly respected by DJ's, and I'll venture to say that Mills is arguably
> the best DJ of his genre in the world.  (not indended to start flames or
> debate, but I believe this is true).   

        While I, alas, have never gotten to hear _anybody_ from
Detroit spin (the West Coast in general being more or less
techno-hostile (but very house-friendly) and Montana specifically
being pretty poor in the hot-shit event department), I would have no
problem believing that Mills is a mixing _god_, if how he DJs is
anything like how he mixes down his own tracks.
        And, as I referred to above, Mills makes you try harder to mix
his music (if there is a bias towards Jeff here, it's because the only
Rob Hood stuff I own are his very old releases on Underground
Resistance, which are far from representative of what he's been up to
recently, from what I can gather), but the extra effort generally is
rewarded. He himself is a DJ, he knows what he likes to spin, and he
creates music that does what he likes. Or so I would guess.

>         If you hate "a looped beat ad nauseaum,"  as you say, then you
> should listen before buying, but do appreciate the structure and short(er)
> length of the tracks.  But the tracks are no-bullshit, straight-up pure
> techno, IMHO, and waste no time in "noodling" or un-motivated ambient
> atmosphere, yet they still have "soul" in some dark way.  A great example
> of this is the track "Core" on Robert Hood's "Internal Empire," on the
> M-plant label.  Even the name of the track suggests it's feel.  :)
>         Recommended Listening:
>         Jeff Mills
>                 (many records on the AXIS label, which I think is "his" label)
>                 "Cycle 30"  12" which has about 8 cool locked-groove loops
> on the b-side
>                 "GROWTH" 12"

        Don't forget
        X-103 - Atlantis
        X-102 - Explores the Rings of Saturn
                which are way-out-there experimental stuff, and
                probably the most relevant to a vast majority of
                IDM's subscribers. Ambient, hardcore, trance, and
                just about everything else get their moments here.
        X-102 - The Planet
        X-101 - Sonic Destroyer
                old-style but fun old 12"s on UR/Axis. Not as wacky as
                Mills' other stuff (read: closer to normal), but just
                as good.
        Waveform Transmission v1 (I've got a copy of this on the way
                me as we speak, and I'm totally psyched to actually
                _own_ it)
        Waveform Transmission v3
        The Extremist 12"

        Really, all of these are good listening music, and have brains
to spare. Mills is probably the best example (that I can think of) of
an artist who consistently works under a strong, overarching

        If you like Mills' stuff, you'd also probably enjoy almost
everything on Basic Channel. They have a similarly warped
hi-fi-meets-lo-fi approach to production and they cover all the bases
from ambient through really hard-edged stuff. Their music isn't even
that hard to find anymore! The two things to keep in mind are:

        1) Unfortunately, no BC stuff has been put out on CD, except
for the odd compilation appearance (and they are odd -- BC tracks have
popped up on everywhere from new electronica to Tresor to R&S).

        2) As with all Detroit music, it pays to check the pressing
quality before you buy the record. I don't know what it is about
Detroit records, but I have gotten some really gnarly pressings from
that part of the world.

> I hope that helps.  It sure isn't what I consider to be IDM but hey, it's
> damn good.  :) 

        Hah! I'm one of those evil revisionist thinkers that think a
lot more stuff could be included under the term "intelligent dance
music" without it losing its intended meaning. There really is only so
much, in the 365 days that constitute a year, you can say about Speedy
J, Autechre, Polygon Window, the Black Dog, B12 (not that there's any
danger of _them_ getting overdiscussed on this list), FUSE, and the
rest of the AI and RePHLeX crews without the discussion turning kind
of stale. I think it's pretty sad that we degenerate as often as we do
into prolonged discussions on the availability of certain records (see
my next message, where I expand on this ready-to-be-flambeed idea). I
_do_ think all of the above is IDM, and really good IDM to boot!

> Sorry this reply was so long.......

        I'm doubly sorry, but only if you find what I had to say
boring. I _like_ long messages, when they're substantive (like Matt's

> peace,
> _______________________________________________________________________
> Matt MacQueen                                                   GROWTH.
> Interface and Hypermedia Designer/Programmer                  
> Communication Technology Laboratory, Michigan State Univeristy
> _______________________________________________________________________

yrz in splendor,

      ozymandias G desiderata AKA Forrest L Norvell AKA DJ AladdinSane
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