Presentations of diversity seem to be becoming increasingly apt: whatever Frederic Jameson says about postmodernism, the fact is that our cultural world is phenomenally fragmented into thousands of diverging, idiosyncratic pieces. I imagine it like looking at a membrane through a microscope: the endless discovery of parts moving inside parts — individuation ad infinitum. You get a feeling for this constant kind of modification and fertile variety in the tapes of Ahnnu who strings together myriad shards of social and cultural noises, culminating in a spectacular, compelling barrage of the diverse. As curator and persuader of sound, as opposed to (mythical) Creator of music, Ahnnu makes sound tapestries of a socially objective character: here, subjectivity is transfigured from the momentary divine to the capacity to situate oneself acutely in the manifold of personal and social time.
Ahnnu’s new tape, World Music, released on Matthewdavid’s Leaving Records, is composed of 12 discrete musical etudes, all no more than two and a half minutes in length, totaling at just less than 20 minutes. The tracks are parallel in movement: they subject various cultural splinters from the worlds of soul, jazz, and hip-hop to a new, vital electronic force that, while clearly maintaining identities, essentially strips them free of their historical specificity. They are studies in collage, and the processes of cutting, chopping, gluing, immersing, and remolding are all honed down to an impressive aesthetic simplicity and coherency.
World Music continues the functions present on last year’s Couch and pro habitat, but the entire tape has a more tranquil haze, as if compositional processes no longer have to compete for attention because they’ve been inwardly absorbed. Taking the more instrumental moments of pro habitat as its starting point, World Music is beautifully cluttered, with swooning trumpets, soothing vibraphones, a melancholic saxaphone, and ever heedless double bass and drums. Impressively, the sound manipulation seems to follow the contours of the original samples, which are all brimming with some kind of original soulfulness. While Ahnnu channels those sounds in directions that are conceptually unknowable unto themselves, they sound and feel like natural extensions. Both spiritual and technical elements combine to create something that completely transfigures the sound sources, yet lies at their feet with full recognition of their aesthetic, humanitarian wholeness.
The tape’s greatest feat is its conciseness. The appropriation of sounds and styles is executed so fragmentarily and tastefully that you feel as if Ahnnu has condensed music to its most meaningful, essential parts. There’s a certain freedom in that: sounds are liberated from their narrative conventions and brought to a higher, more interactive plane. Take the saxophone lament on “Found”: its identity is simultaneously emancipated and reified by its absorbent, exotic setting of chimes and water-based sounds; similarly, the solo vocal fragment that recurs on “Non2” emerges with a certain space and clarity — i.e., identity — that you doubt was even exposed so well in its original setting. Somehow, despite their brevity, such allusions and references avoid being cursory and tokenistic: it’s no guided tour of personal or collective monuments of the annals of popular culture, but rather a micro study in the inherent distortion that recorded sound and sampling technology engender in the experience of time.
The spiritual and temporal implications of digital production and its appropriation of sounds and styles become prescient precisely because of the ways in which those cultures now reappear. The melange of recordings that find their way onto this tape seems representative of the totalizing capabilities of our age and intellect, while the musical excerpts themselves shimmer ephemerally of something more spiritually grounded than is capable of the frameworks that encapsulate them. The almost careless harmony that emerges out of Ahnnu’s constructions is all the more beautiful for this self-consciousness: rapturous moments are now of a much slighter character, and on World Music, Ahnnu reshapes them to bring together a fleeting reverie on the possibility of all reveries.