Five weeks before his ∞th birthday, James Ferraro sits behind his desk, overlooking a parking garage in downtown Alien-Nopork, NY. The cell phone in front of him buzzes with potential music collaborations and proposals about placing ads on his stage attire. A rival producer wants his best brand connections and wants to give him nothing in return. Ferraro bristles. He holds a Cuban cigar in his hand. Smoking is allowed.
“Well, shit, being as I own the building,” he says, laughing.
Back in the office after his vacation on a 154-foot rented yacht named Baby Mitsubishi, he feels that relaxation slipping away. He feels pulled inward, toward his own most valuable and destructive traits. Slights roll through his mind, eating at him: avant-garde done incorrectly, eco-terrorist, absentee holy figure. Ferraro reads the things written about him, the fuel arriving in a packet of clips his staff prepares. He knows what people say. He needs to know, a needle for a hungry vein. There’s a palpable simmering whenever you’re around Ferraro, as if Lil IceBunny is still in there, churning, trying to escape. It must be strange to be locked in combat with the ghost of your former self.
Smoke curls off the cigar. He wears slacks and a plain white dress shirt, monogrammed on the sleeve in white, understated. An ID badge hangs from one of those zip line cords on his belt, with his name on the bottom: Prince James Ferraro, just in case anyone didn’t recognize the owner of one of the largest franchises in a struggling music industry. There’s a shudder in every child of the 80s and 90s who does the math and realizes that James Ferraro is turning ∞. Where did the years go? Ferraro has trouble believing it, difficulty admitting it to himself. But he’s in the mood for admissions today, and there’s a look on his face, a half-smile, as he considers how far to go.
“I… I always thought I would die young,” he says, leaning up to rap his knuckles on the rich, dark wood of his desk.
He has kept this fact a secret from most people. A fatalist obsession didn’t go with his public image and, well, it’s sort of strange. His mother would get angry with him when he’d talk to her about it. He just could never imagine being old. He seemed too powerful, too young, and death was more likely than a slow decline. The universe might take him, but it would not permit him to suffer the graceless loss and failure of aging. A tragic flaw could undo him but never anything as common as bad knees or failing eyesight.
Later that night, standing in his kitchen, he squints across his loft at the television. His friend Vinh Ngan catches him.
“You gonna need to get some glasses,” Ngan says.
“I can see,” Ferraro says.
“Don’t be bullshitting me,” Ngan says. “I can see you struggling.”
“I can see,” Ferraro insists.
The television is built into the modern stone fireplace in his sprawling downtown condo, the windows around them overlooking Red Bull Avenue. An open bottle of Pahlmeyer merlot sits on an end table. Ngan is in town for an upcoming show. They’ve been talking, about Ferraro’s birthday and about the changes in his life, all seeming to happen at once. Ferraro feels in transition. He moved out of his house in Dubai and is moving into a new one in Florida in three weeks. He’s engaged. Inside he’s dealing, finally, with the cost of his own competitive urges, asking himself difficult questions. To what must he say goodbye? What is there to look forward to? Catching an introspective Ferraro is like finding a spotted owl, but here he is, considering himself. Ferraro relights his cigar. It keeps going out.
“Listen,” Ngan says, “Father Time ain’t lost yet.”
The idea hangs in the air.
“Damn,” Ngan continues. “∞.”
He shakes his head.
“Can you believe it?” Ferraro says quietly, and it sounds like he’s talking to himself.
Visions / Voices [album premiere]
Take a piece of string, thread it through an entirely metal object (maybe a coat hanger or a wire shelf from your oven), wrap each end around your fingers, bend over forward, and, with the object hanging freely, put your fingers in your ears and gently tap the object against a hard surface.
Félicia Atkinson is a conversationalist in a world of sometimes sealed artistic enclaves. She avoids the critical staring contest, that prolonged game of theoretical wink murder, where Bourdieu’s gaze meets “the critical gaze” meets the “male gaze” meets the “artistic gaze” meets the “symbolic capital” of some other unnerving gaze. Or was that just a blink?
With all the impressions that Visions / Voices might leave on you — disorientation, joy, diverging moments of memory, escape — the one that struck me most was a feeling of creative cataclysm. The need to create. This is an album that holds a reminder deep within its core of how joyful making music and art can be, not in some deep structural quest for a eugenics of sound, but in the rewarding work of the “experimental” as a process, rather than a delineated generic other.
Although the aforementioned “Big B” might say that “a work of art has meaning and interest only for someone who possesses the cultural competence, that is, the code, into which it is encoded,” he misses the power of broken codes, of residual artistic content, of blurred disciplinary boundaries, of transgressions that engage rather than exclude, of mistakes and duff notes. This is where Félicia Atkinson shines.
For an attention to sonic detail like hers shouldn’t mean an assumption of exclusivity. Visions / Voices is inclusive yet challenging, coherent yet discursive.
But wait! There is one thing that’s exclusive about it for now; you can listen to the whole album below for the first time. Eight tracks from three years, tessellated into a stunning whole.
No strings needed for now.
Visions / Voices is out March 29 on Umor Rex.
not 2 far away
One of the things that’s always fascinated me about “new age” music is how much of it really straddles the boundaries of taste. Look at the drone-heavy early work of Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schulze and it becomes apparent that there’s a very fine line separating these often wildly experimental recordings from their later forays into shiny synth bliss. One of the key elements that often accounts for taste with this genre of music lies solely in timbre. Daniel Lopatin once referred to this phenomenon as “timbral fascism,” meaning that certain sounds were often looked at as being off limits because of their associations. As a result, Lopatin and other like-minded artists made it their mission to recontextualize these sounds within the context of underground experimental music.
However, vaporwave took this idea of opening up the timbral world of 80s/90s schlock to a whole new level. The artists slowed down and looped samples of some of the most openly disliked genres of New Age muzak in such a way that it was impossible to ignore the sound world. The only thing you could do was give up and be completely swallowed in it.
One of the foremost vaporwave artists is the prolific Will Burnett a.k.a INTERNET CLUB, who has now evolved into Wakesleep. A few weeks ago, Wakesleep released his first album, and boy does it ever make this question of taste and timbre interesting. Like many vaporwave records, not 2 far away relies heavily on repetition, but in this case, the sound sources and timbres are not always readily apparent. It seems that Burnett often takes the smallest sample possible and lets it repeat/warp into oblivion. As a result, the audio becomes completely removed from its original context and these once saccharine sounds become rather austere, sometimes even abrasive. Couple that with some truly startling uses of space and the results sound more like Jim O’Rourke or Toshimaru Nakamura than Macintosh Plus, proving that even the most “outdated” sounds have the potential to jar a listener when slightly altered.
You can stream and/or download not 2 far away via the link below.
• Wakesleep: http://www.facebook.com/pages/INTERNET-CLUB-FOLLOWCHILLWAVEGANG
• Ailanthus: http://ailanthusrecordings.bandcamp.com
Let’s be frank: thus far we’ve only gotten what’s pretty much amounted to bits and scraps from the Brooklynite synth pop up-and-comer Empress Of, but oh, what sweet and delicious bits and scraps she’s been feeding us so far. From her upcoming EP, “Hat Trick” is only the third song released by Empress Of’s Lorely Rodriguez, and it’s definitely a continuation from “Champagne,” especially in the way it departs from the slow-burn, melancholic synths of her first single, “Don’t Tell Me,” and those cryptic, color-coded snippets of songs that were uploaded on YouTube a few months back. Rodriguez seems to be moving towards a more up-tempo pop sound, confidently employing a retro aesthetic where needed, and it seems we’re all the better for it.
Empress Of’s debut EP, Systems, will be out April 2nd on Terrible Records.
Motion Sickness of Time Travel
Rachel Evans, who records her solo work as Motion Sickness of Time Travel (often shortened to MSOTT), is so totally on fire right now. She has already released five separate albums in 2013. When I started writing this blurb, Penchant Mode was the freshest MSOTT out there. But nooow, it’s sold out and there are two forthcoming releases that would be even more hip to talk about. Oh well. February really wasn’t that long ago and Penchant Mode is still ripe a hell, and you can listen to it below.
Supposedly recorded on Halloween of last year, Penchant Mode features the uncharacteristically groovy piece “Initiation,” which retains a dark and slightly disco arpeggio throughout, while haunting vocals and piercing tones slide along the driving rhythm. Side B holds “Growing Things,” which grows indeed, as it paints an image of a kid in a robot costume, as opposed to the more funky Frankenstein on side A.