Perhaps the coolest thing about technology is how it connects people. E-mail alone has severely tweaked how we communicate. (Ever make a strong connection over e-mail? Ever have a pointless misunderstanding over it?) And with all of this talk about the Internet boom being over, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it’s only just begun. Luckily, most tech-obsessed artists don’t give a shit about market fluctuations. For them, the future is about what works and what needs fixing.
Minus recording artist Theorem (aka Dale Lawrence) is one such technophile. His new album THX: Experiments in Synchronicity puts the art of click and drag in a new light. Working over the Internet with electronic composers Sutekh, Swayzak and Stewart Walker, Lawrence has collected an anthology of nocturnal techno that morphs algorithms into hypnorhythms.
“I think what the THX project proves is how close we are together [musically],” says Lawrence over a beer at a local brewpub, “because those songs were all done over the Internet with friends who are on the other side of the country or the other side of the Atlantic. You’re not limited to only being inspired by your locale. If you want to work with other artists from anywhere you can — you just pop ’em an e-mail and you hook up. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on flights anymore.”
The sharing potential of machine music has made the home studio more powerful than ever. Thus, THX … hopes to be just as much an homage to that advance as it is a good listen.
“We made an entire library of sounds,” explains Lawrence. “For Stewart Walker, I made a Web page with a menu so all he had to do was click on the name of a sound, download the sound and put it in his sampler. Then he’d compose a track from those sounds. Every track I worked on was from sounds they supplied me and every track that the other people worked on was (built) from sounds I supplied for them.”
Lawrence bounced e-mails with attached sound clips back and forth, which the other artists turned into larger pieces. When his sounds boomeranged back, Lawrence was amazed by how well it worked. He talks about getting a polished Swayzak song (“Devil of Rotations”) in the inbox. The London duo had made his disjointed sounds glow. He closed his eyes and turned up the volume, completely feeling the song’s delayed, polyrhythmic melody and minimal synth shimmers.
“Imagine if Monet had to use the palette of Picasso,” he adds. “You can’t mix your own paints now — this is all you’ve got. It was like that. I was using their palette of sounds and arranging them the way I arrange sounds, and they were doing the same thing with my sounds.”
The painter analogy isn’t totally apt, but the image is helpful.
“I like subtle progressions,” says Lawrence. “I don’t like verse-chorus-verse. I like things to swell and grow and evolve.”
So do the other artists he’s working with (save for a few of Swayzak’s poppier efforts). Therefore, in a sense, it’s not that much of a stretch. Still, that an album like this can conjure a singular voice is damn impressive.
The THX series was completed long before the album dropped this summer. In the meantime, life’s kicked Lawrence in the ass a bit and his inspiration lately has come from soul-searching after personal letdowns. He got laid off from a graphic design job and an engagement turned into a bitter breakup. It’s not all bad, though. Sublimation has sparked 21 new songs in just the past two months and Lawrence claims both he and his sound are evolving.
“This has been the worst year of my life,” he announces, after being asked why he’s so prolific now. “Everything just kinda fell apart and all I had left was to make music. … I started doing it pretty hardcore. … It was breakdown, breakthrough and I just needed to vent.”
“Music’s always been therapy for me,” he admits. “I’ve never been 100 percent happy. I’m always drowning my sorrows in making music. I’ve been doing that since the mid-’80s. I’m always pouring emotion into my songs, which is what I think keeps me from being purely minimal.”
That explains a lot. Theorem’s sound isn’t exactly minimal, although most would like to call it “minimal techno,” which evokes Rob Hood more than it does Lawrence. There’s a lot of music like Theorem’s coming out lately, all from graduates of the Germany-meets-Detroit school of hypnotic, melodic living-room techno. Most of this sub-sect has an after-hours or afternoon vibe to it. It’s wrongly called minimal to explain its simplicity — why it’s so clean-sounding. ‘Micro-house’ seems to be the most tossed around term for it lately, but that will likely change next week.
“If you like subtlety, you’re going to pick out all of the nuances until they kind of pluck at you,” says Lawrence when asked why it’s hard for some people to accept emotion from computers. “There are so many songs of Autechre’s, for instance, that almost bring tears to my eyes. And to some people it’s, ‘Look at those crusty Germans!’”
Unlike many of us swimming in the post-rave backwash, Lawrence has retained his glossy-eyed faith in forward thinking. His music isn’t groundbreaking, it’s just part of the bigger shovel.
“People that embrace electronic music are kind of addicted to technology anyway,” he insists. “They really want to hear something or see something that’s never been done before. It’s the whole progress of mankind thing. I think the people who really have the love for it are trying to make that new sound. Part of that process is about being influenced by other people, and part of it is about locking yourself in a room for weeks at a time.”
Of course, a little help from your friends never hurts. It’s nice to know that even when oceans get in the way, people on the same wavelength can turn their computer screens into artistic mirrors.