Evan Caminiti Toxic City Music

[Dust Editions; 2017]

Styles: ambient, field recordings, ennui
Others: Andy Stott, Bardo:Basho, Balam Acab

The sounds of Toxic City Music, electronic musician Evan Caminiti’s third release on his own label Dust Editions, emerge like smoke from a stack, coiling and rising before they drift to join the world’s growing sonic archive of urban ennui. This release involves the contemporary rhythmic experiments of club music and also the more everyday traces of grit and decay that club music aestheticizes. On this collection, field recordings of New York City — pipes, kitchen sinks, garbage trucks, radio static — are threaded into sounds of glitch, electric guitars, and fragmented synthesizers, echoing the aesthetic of Caminiti’s prior releases, both solo and with drone group Barn Owl.

While New York City can be full of loveliness — children’s laughter, birdcalls, ice cream song — the version that Toxic City Music offers is deliberately bleak, a kind that has long been captured by camera and microphone, then titled art. The fragmented repetitions in the belly of the track “Possession,” for example, resemble the spectacular mechanical cycles of Philip Glass’s minimalist soundtrack for Koyaanisqatsi (1982), “life out of balance.” In that film, time-lapsed, desaturated visual shots are accompanied by relentless musical repetitions, by which the dreary habituations of human and natural worlds alike (factories, slums, canyons) are bound together through their common temporal patterns. Caminiti’s own work similarly gives shape to particularly alienating aspects of contemporary life, marking and regulating a variety of psychological and tactile gradations: the sounds of swoons, sighs, cars, pauses, shafts, and sky are thrown together on 10 tracks that channel isolation, work, paranoia, decay.

But while Toxic City Music hints at alienation, it never succumbs to it. Creeping into its tracks is the muted fulfillment that pervades many renderings of urban life — for example, Chantal Akerman’s own vision of New York City, News From Home (1977). That film has no “soundtrack,” but its distinctly urban audio elements — the hum of florescents, subway silence punctuated by coughs and clipped questions — conveys emotional textures similar to those imagined by Caminiti: a pacifying sense of people looking but not speaking, passing but not touching, speculating but not asking. Toxic City Music beckons us to hear in these hauntings a life out of balance, a snapshot of late capitalism when the ruse has already been exhausted and the bleakest snows of mid-winter linger into spring.

But in deeply evocative, complex tracks like “French Cocoon,” I hear something different; the fluidity of its BPM seems caused not by precarity, repression, or confusion, but by the rubato of a human heartbeat whenever we are able to see the future uncoil before us as it actually is: utterly blank.

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