Richard Swift (Instruments of Science & Technology) Music From the Films of R/Swift

[Secretly Canadian; 2008]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: avant-garde, electronic, soundtrack music
Others: you’ve seen the movie, right? No?

The record is called Music From the Films of R/Swift – Richard Swift being the composer behind Instruments of Science and Technology. The idea, that Swift has scored an imaginary film, is an immediately effective characterization. The record feels like a soundtrack – a collage of musical ideas focused on mood, rhythm, and texture. Whereas the pop-music-as-film schema often means pop with awkward, intrusive narrative components, Music From the Films of R/Swift reverses that dynamic, removing all of the narrative components and leaving only an aesthetic.

It should serve, then, to describe what the effect is. Immediately, Swift engages the listener with propulsive, seemingly organic beats loaded with overtones from R&B, electro, and hip-hop. Where traditionally there would be dominant melodies, there are instead loads of textural elements – keyboards zooping and squirting and diving, samples and clips put through freakish reverb settings and occasionally, bits of vocoder fashioned into twisted harmonies. All of these tricks are put to great use in “INST,” which is the album’s opener and perhaps the catchiest piece on display.

Elsewhere, the music resembles more conventional art-film offerings. “War/UnWar” and its nearest neighbors consist mostly of the sort of vague drones-and-moans that we’re all used to hearing in student films or arty sci-fi updates (the score to Soderbergh’s remake of Solaris, for example, was full of this sort of thing). The pair of “Theme” pieces near the end mash Autechrian synth fragments against echofied percussion a la Mouthus. Closer to the end are a series of experiments that gradually fade in intensity, and then 32 minutes into the record, it abruptly stops. Yes, it’s that short.

Presumably, Swift had plenty of imaginary music leftover from his imaginary film – music that didn’t make the cut. He is to be commended for sparing us any B-material; the outcome of this selectiveness is a record that is cohesive and mostly consistent. In fact, Music From the Films of R/Swift is a rare case where an indie record is exactly what it claims to be: this is music for the art film of your life, so if you intend to spend some time clutching your head in a dark corner, nodding to yourself like a psychotic on thorazine, or staring with slack jaw at a series of Buñuel-derivative images, or walking down the street mumbling into a disembodied boom mic, then buy this record and put it on. Alternatively, if you’re just a music critic who is sick of promotional gimmickry that doesn’t wash, put this record on and enjoy the fact of modest aims soundly satisfied.

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