Seth Graham Gasp

[Orange Milk; 2018]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: information flow, cut-up, plunderphonics, modern composition
Others: David Kanaga, Oneohtrix Point Never, Noah Creshevsky, very old Tim Hecker records

It’s a truism that the explosion of digital technology over the last few decades has resulted in disorientation. It had been all scattered dial-up modems and then suddenly ubiquitous high-speed internet; everything changed from text, to text with sound, and then to text-as-images of everything everywhere. Those images then started to circulate faster, always accelerating, seemingly to the point at which they blended into one another, and then there was a meme template overlaid on another meme template with hieroglyphics or truth tables in the text boxes, and I think I saw a recording of a drone bombing played 30 times faster on a 3-second loop, or maybe it was a Disney character cutting its own fingers off. Wait, what?

Something obviously went askew on the border between the material and the digital. It’s like there was this thing that was on our screens, and it was fun and interesting to look at, and then it suddenly grew tentacles and kind of pulled us in while uttering that something is “fhtang.” Maybe it was the other way around, I can’t really recall now. In any case, everything seems blended together now, in a way that makes me feel like I have a screen growing on my forehead and cryptocurrency startups hatching from eggs in my backyard.

Many artists have tried to represent our digital moment on some level. Most fail though, usually because they take it way too seriously, often to the point where their moral preaching becomes obnoxious. How many times can we listen to someone screaming that our reality is fucked? It’s like they overlook the humor in this weirdness, and I mean actual humor that affirms its conditions, not irony retreated into this comfortable chair made of uptight detachment and tears. Humor doesn’t equate to that stupefying laughter of the spectacle. It comes from the recognition of it and of our being embedded in it and its processes.

See, there was this Gasp by Seth Graham, and I think it captures the above quite well. After five seconds, we can tell the music’s all digital and that there was probably very little or no actual gasping into a microphone. We can hear burbles, sounds cut up and drastically altered from one second to another, different digital artifacts blending together. Yet it also feels equally material: while the sounds are mostly samples from acoustic instruments (woodwinds, some strings, real voices, and other unwieldy things), it doesn’t come off like 1s and 0s. They exist at a point in which these things intermingle with what we like to call our “reality,” and it’s all presented in playful ways. We can hear the humor in a beautiful melody suddenly drowned out by a stream of the acoustic equivalent of blobs, or in the few seconds of sound cut from what seems like a very emotional operatic aria, which are suddenly juxtaposed against atonal digital noises. Seth is not playing music, but playing with music, constructing a conveyor belt for sound-images that dance around us, making us feel everything at once, a hyperspeed emotional travel.

That’s because humor isn’t one-dimensional. Humor is a very honest thing, and through that honesty, it results in much more than mere laughter, whether consciously or not. For Seth, that means creating moments of beauty, tranquility, or sometimes even sorrow, and then contrasting them with moments that are humorous or downright chaotically unsettled. If we let our attention be grabbed by this complicated machinery, we’ll find that this is not just a showcase of a sample library; out of this mess, Seth somehow manages to write digitally complex yet emotionally intimate music, creating the conditions for a playful interchange between the seemingly opposing spheres of the digital and the material. What’s that worth? Rather than forcibly driving a wedge into the material-digital divide in a self-defeating panic, Seth embraces our relation with technology and contemporary reality, showing how much depth, vulnerability, and joy there is to be discovered.

Links: Seth Graham - Orange Milk

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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