Cross Product 5

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Artificial Music Machine’s “Cross Product 5” happened last night down at Elysium.

The battery in my truck broke (it didn’t just die — it broke) about a week ago and I haven’t bothered to have it repaired or replaced yet. See, I bought this nice new bike a couple of months ago thinking: “With this bike, I’ll save a bit of money on gas and repairs for the truck since I’ll be able to bike most places I need to go.” And then I kept using the truck, the bike mostly keeping me entertained on weekend rides down to the river or whatever. Now I have no motor wheels, so if I want to go somewhere I have to plan to hop on the bike and pedal to my destination. Which is great. I get some exercise and parking a bike is much less of a hassle than parking a truck downtown. And this past week I’ve learned that I can get what I need to get done done without the truck. With just the bike.

Anyway. So I biked across town to Casita Jorges for dinner and drinks with Harold, Kazuki, Jen Potter, Jen’s brother, and (later) John Smith. Knowing I would be at Cross Product later in the evening, I just had a veggieburger and water — no beer or margaritas. And then I had to bike back. Exhausting.

So I cooled off at the house for a while before taking off for the big show. I left at about 11:15 and showed up late, missing the first set and coming in towards the beginning of the Dillitex set.

I don’t like talking about music. For the most part. It’s something I do sometimes because I feel like I have to — complimenting an artist for a good set usually involves coming up with a few concrete reasons why the set rocked — and it’s also something I just do out of social nervousness. But it’s frustrating because I can never (or very rarely) accurately verbalize my thoughts on music. A famous (oft-quoted) John Cage maxim: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” fits here well.

In an odd way DJing makes for better musical conversation. By including a track at a specific point in a set, a DJ not only indicates that they really like the track, but they also comment on what they like about it by which tracks they surround it with and when they play it. Maybe that’s a stretch. I guess I’ll restrain myself from just deleting it. I don’t DJ so I can’t really write about why a DJ does what they do or what they might be “saying” by doing it.

To distract you, now, I’m going to write a funny-sounding word:


So now let’s talk about Dillitex. He (Dylan, by birth) pulled out a very nice set of sort of electro beats laced with nice melodic elements — sometimes sampled (like a violin or orchestra riff during what I recall being his final track of the night), sometimes pure synthesizeriness. He layers well. He provided interesting grooves and melodies, but rarely did a single element stand out sharply. It flowed.

He came over afterwards and talk with Eric and I for a moment. Told us he’d been using Wavelab with some plug-ins over pre-recorded patterns, adjusting the VSTs as he went along.

So he did two things which I do and tend to feel self-conscious about: He had song breaks (instead of smoothly segueing from one track to the next with no silence), and the amount of live control he had amounted to the ability to tweak and only subtly modify prearranged sounds (as I understood from talking to him about it). And Stars as Eyes, when they hit the stage after Dylan, seemed to do the same things: They had song breaks and I assume most of the sounds were completely predone because they didn’t really appear to be doing much on stage (though maybe they had more control than I could see).

Either way, Stars as Eyes also did a good set. Very noisy. Noisier than the last couple of times I’ve seen them play live. And I like noisy. It’s good when it locks into the rest of the sound — but I don’t care so much for extended walls of noise, which they lapsed into a couple times briefly towards the end of tracks. But in a few places they did that thing I love, where the kind of “accidental-sounding” feedback noises (kind of the equivalent of guitar fret noise or microphone squeal) interlaced with the other rhythms, giving that cool controlled-error effect. These guys definitely do not produce glitch, but glitch as a genre often works in the same way: some of the excitement (“drama,” if you will) comes from the artist making sounds that sound like they should be errors — digital fuck-ups or software problems — but controlling them in such a way as to make music. I seem to recall Todd Simmons floating the idea that glitch pulls the audience in because most users of things like CD players and stereos have a sort of jump-reaction to sounds such as skipping or bit-decay that normally indicate that something is going wrong. So some musicians play on that jump-reaction. Sounds good to me. I’m not sure that idea totally applies to the Stars as Eyes set. But it’s an interesting idea. Anyway, they did a good job (if a rather short one — clocking in at what seemed like about 35 or 40 minutes).

What else to say?

Oh, yeah. DJ Navi_Cat (aka Adrienne Russell of “Thomas and Adrienne” fame) inserted one of my tracks into her mix — the first time I’ve heard that done in an actual club, with actually people dancing (though by that point only about five people remained on the floor — but they had energy). My reaction was weird. I recognized the track when it came on, but it took me about thirty seconds to realize what it was. Anyway. Very cool. I remember in high school saying to Sean that I wanted to be able to be at a club and say, “That’s my music they’re playing!” to whomever I was with.

My high school brain had this weird idea that you go to clubs with girls you find interesting, that you dance, and that having a song by you come up would be a big selling point. My mid-20s brain says you bike to clubs and hang out with a bunch of people talking. Eric Day said something yesterday evening along the lines of, “Electronic music in Austin is a total social scene — everyone comes and talks and the music is sort of over there, in the background.” Yeah, well my theory is that many Austinites are a bit over-sexed as far as live music goes. Like male pornstars who can only get it halfway up for ever the sexiest women. I’m out sometimes twice a week hearing people play. Every now and then more than twice a week. While this is great intellectual stimulation for someone who wants to play a more active role in the music scene, it reduces the sort of natural excitement coming to a big club with a couple hundred people should bring on. I do, though, remember acutely how I felt going to clubs in high school (sophisticated spots like Paradox and Spirits — the latter now closed because people kept getting shot there — though I also went to the quite stylin’ Red Room a couple of times), and memories of those more pure reactions do still play a role in the music I create for live performances at these sorts of places.

So I didn’t get to brag to my cute date about the inclusion of my material in the DJ set, but it made me happy nonetheless.

Anyway. It’s time to wrap this up. So…