The Saw, The Fan, The Aquarium (3 CD box set)

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Unlike some electronic musicians who clearly draw inspiration and attitude from the flash and dazzle of rock culture, the author of this three-CD box set gets his signals juiced by the raw sounds of everyday objects.

Jeff Karolski sculpts three long pieces from source material he might have found in a garage sale: a saw, a fan and an aquarium. Unsurprisingly, each piece is flatly named after those objects, which he manipulated, distorted, layered and stripped away in three separate live performances during the last 15 months.

The Saw is a recording of the Hamtramck-based artist’s appearance at the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2000. His “instruments” included a miniature table saw, mini-disc player, a sampler, an effects processor and a mixer.

The result is a rippling drone, like spirals of water created by the drop of a single pebble, hovering around ear level, begging for contemplation. Others working similar territory — Vienna’s Christian Fennesz might be the best known — occasionally startle and annoy with bursts of machine bedlam. Karolski appears too self-possessed by his own soundworld to knowingly inflict pain.

Karolski’s work is the flip side of Detroit techno’s dance-floor aesthetic. No drum machines, no oscillating waveforms, no deep bass vibrations. There are few possibilities to get physical and, regrettably, the mind soon wants to wander in sunnier directions after about 20 minutes spent with each of these recordings. (The Fan was recorded at detroit contemporary in September 2000, and The Aquarium was part of a show at the Center Galleries in February 2001.)

Still, this music has value lurking in the most unlikely places; it has, behind the white noise and the high-art concept, evidence of a beating human heart. It’s risky business to lay your emotions bare in recordings as abrasive as they are intermittently beautiful, and Karolski very nearly pulls it off.

Jeff Karolski’s box set is available at Neptune Records in Royal Oak and Stormy Records in Dearborn. For more information contact handel@mediaone.net.

E-mail Walter Wasacz at letters@metrotimes.com.

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