T.S. Eliot stated that April is the cruellest month. Well at this latitude I’d add May to that too. It’s a tease of a month; the summer solstice gets closer, days lengthen considerably, the wind no longer bites quite so hard, the memory of winter is starting to fade and when the sun comes out it can feel as though summer’s finally arrived.
Conversely, a nasty grey May day can feel very wintery. Experiencing this seasonal contretemps chimes with a recent reissue I’ve been digging. Not only does it repetition perfectly mimic the rain falling on yer Velux windaes, the deftness of its luscious samples also offer a reminder that we’re approaching that time of year where some decidedly odd people start congregating around druids in Wiltshire. Starbox by Farben is that reissue.
Farben is one of several aliases for German electronic musician Jan Jelinek. I first came across Jelinek through a Secret Thirteen mix, which, of course, featured practically none of his own output. The splicing and layering beguiled, acting similarly to the inconsistency of memory, with notes and phases of familiar tunes woven perpetually threatened by glitches and ambient occlusion. This is a theme runs through the specific era of works featured here by Jelinek, circa 2001 to 2002, which happen to be among his best.
Jelinek’s stuff falls under the auspices of IDM. A hackneyed term that includes equally nauseating sub-genre classifications such as Microhouse or nu-jazz. Their use rightly induces sneers, winces, eye rolls and encourages visions of humans aged between twenty-five and forty-five, sitting at home, stroking their chins, smugly operating under the delusion that this is the zenith of cultural sophistication and taste. I want it stated for the record that this is not how I’ve consumed IDM. Believe what you will.
You see it’s far more practical than just the aesthetic. Having Starbox’s punchy fusion of funk, Jazz and disco loops that always leave you wanting more on while filling the dishwasher makes the mundanity of the task more bearable. Because Starbox is a compilation of singles, it’s a more catholic piece than the other Jelinek albums I’ve focused on here. It’s clarity of loops first before things get grimier and more bass heavy later.
Starbox’s end offerings “As Long As There’s Love Around” and “So Much Love” operate as the perfect vector into Loop Finding Jazz Records, and this is Jelinek’s most celebrated record among the heads. It’s a full fat Hagen-Das of a summer record. Be it the rolling silk reverbs on “They, Them”, the rising globulousness of “Moire (Strings)”, and the sharpness of “Do Dekor” is tactile in a Dandelion seed flying up yer nostril way. “Them, There” fully embodies summer’s verbosity replete with Aphex Twin Window Licker-esque high wailed pitches, which conjures images a lawnmower being operated in the distance by human sized Bumblesting.
Computer Soup – Improvisations And Edits Tokyo is another must. The melodies are soothing and offer less truncated jazz samples. The use of Amstrad noises on “Hot Barbeque” is a canny deviation, mirroring the chaos of the free inprov Jazz samples underneath it. The tighter looping frequency has more in common with another of Jelinek’s projects Personal Rock by Gramm and the highly influential glitch ambient piece Do While by Oval. I’ve always viewed IDM as a quintessentially German pastiche, but then I’ve always associated Jazz with summer, of hot New Orleans clubs and John Coltrane sweating out enough heroin on stage to kill an baby elephant. Absolute bollocks conjured by anecdotal experience, of course, but there’s absolute truth to LCD Soundsystem’s sarcasm on Losing My Edge – all great musical trends become seated and mythologised to a time and place where they were most abundant, for Detroit read Techno, Disco – New York, Punk – London and IDM – Berlin.
Regardless of all that, Jelinek sampling and reconstituting the familiar into something new is a well-trodden path in music. What I can’t recall is many if any instances where the reimaging of an album with the blessing of the person who released the original. Usually it’s just a shameless money grab – an anniversary reissue with a few live performances or demo tracks tacked on.
Perhaps not surprising that Consumed in Key exists if we consider Keith Richards’ musing when rehearsing with Bob Dylan (as Voices of Freedom) for Live Aid in 1985 “that when you’ve been playing your own songs for so long you start to re-write them”. So why wouldn’t Richie Hawtin (aka Plastikman) or anyone revisit past works and tweak them. To quote someone more reliably lucid that Keith Richards, W.H. Auden is often attributed with the adage that “a work of art is never completed, only abandoned”. Indeed the Bandcamp explainer for Consumed In Key hints at this being the reason for its existence, ““Consumed in Key” is born of the obsessive love of a timeless work of art, an obsessive fascination untempered by fearful reverence. It is the result of a 30-year cycle of musical evolution and inspiration, a touch of Canadian kismet (all three are from Canada) and artists finding common ground where others would see none.” Self-aggrandisement in moderation is fine. Still, a bit cheeky that the project was seemingly initiated by Gonzalez, “After hearing Richie Hawtin aka Plastikman’s ‘Consumed’ for the first time, I felt that the record’s loose use of melody and negative space threatened my musical sensibility. The album’s unique timing structure pushed me towards an idea of composing accompanying piano pieces (counterparts) for each of the tracks. It would not be a remix. It would be one composer instinctively reacting to – and finding space within – another composer’s already completed work”.
Regardless, the result is transformative enough to distinguish itself from the original. Looping pianos mix with Consumed’s pulsations to create a strata that’s a contradiction of moods; uplifting, sombre and at times menacing. That doesn’t mesh with the trope of tenuously designating music as summery, but listening to it with the window open, for the first time in seven months, watching the trees refreshed with life sway, makes life feel promising. It’s also a reminder that you’ve gotta live for the day. The desolation of winter will return all too soon, but at least Consumed In Key offers the minor consolation that it will work in that setting too.