Software to release Ben Zimmerman’s The Baltika Years, an album made using a Tandy DeskMate computer

Software to release Ben Zimmerman's The Baltika Years, an album made using a Tandy DeskMate computer

Ben Zimmerman, a Brooklyn-based electronic musician and recent Software signee, has announced his debut album, The Baltika Years, a collection of recordings he created between 1992 and 2002, using a Tandy DeskMate computer. But the album is anything but a low-grade digital-technology curio. While the double album formally resembles a retrospective on Zimmerman’s formative years — think Anla Courtis’s early-career-charting Tape Works — truth is, these compositions were never intended to see the light of day. Halfway between a personal diary and a tool-mastering exercise, The Baltika Years is Zimmerman’s (artistic) autobiography, offering a glimpse of his private world at the same time it outlines his evolution through the music sidelines.

Zimmerman started creating computer-assisted music in the early 1990s, barely out of high school, when a gearhead uncle of his persuaded him to buy a computer. Without any goal in mind but dodging the volatile nature of the support, Zimmerman began transferring his music to tapes and floppy disks. Eventually, the technology became so obsolete that his computer broke down. Zimmerman was able to rescue some of the files, adding the curation of corrupted files and defective disks to this anthology’s unique genesis. Finally, in 2013, he approached Daniel Lopatin’s Software imprint, offering the label a vault of tracks that they immediately thought matched their idea that “human affect and technology fuse to express something mysterious about the world,” and hence decided to put the album out. You can stream a sample below.

The Baltika Years comprises 31 tracks spread across four LP sides, showcasing Zimmerman’s trail through computer-assisted composition, though he manages to remain foreign to the gestalt of contemporary music throughout. The album opens with a playful quality, focusing on Zimmerman’s earliest pieces and suggesting an artist amazed with the possibilities at hand; the execution is rough, making no effort to hide the digital cut-offs or the use of stock-sounds recalling videogame soundtracks, but the music is not unlike Lopatin’s finest moments, with a lo-fi grittiness overtaking R Plus Seven’s digital sheen. While Zimmerman began using his DeskMate’s preset sounds — working with brief mono samples of synthetic instruments — later tracks find him sampling himself playing acoustic instruments or tweaking software settings for tonal effects, culminating with a multi-part exploration of rhythmic strategies (“Pausebreak”) that he explains resulted from his infatuation with drum & bass. All in all, The Baltika Years makes of Ben Zimmerman the rare artist to launch a debut album with a decades-worth oeuvre behind him.

The Baltika Years is out June 9 via Software.

• Ben Zimmerman: https://benzimmerman.bandcamp.com
• Software Recording Co.: http://www.softwarelabel.net

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