Thursday, April 25, 2024

Daily Jam - Tommib

This column was originally published in 2017.

I guess it was always the more cinematic stuff that moved me. Traversing through the head rattling, bone shaking neon wasteland that is the popular modern electronic music scene, anonymity via ridiculous headwear running concurrently with a hyper-presence in social media spaces, I find myself lost and confused among the dayglo revelers and teenage promoters for hire. Was it always like this? Huddled masses yearning for the bass to drop? Bleached kids high on synthetic, designer drugs strewn across fields and parking lots across the world, drowning in their own vomit? EDM, of mice and marshmallows and robots, shaking all their bits for mainstream dollars and notoriety?

It’s not my scene man. But I love electronic music. And I love dance music. I just hate the generic end game we’ve stumbled upon, favoring the darker, more secluded bastions of underground electronic composition. I dig on the outliers. I nod to the past. And there’s that soft, sweet spot for IDM, as pretentious a descriptor as there ever was, that I come of age listening to.

Intelligent. Dance. Music.

Even when I was 18, I knew the term was insufferable, and now, two decades later, its eye rolling ambivalence is enough to cause brain spasms, a twitchy kind of nostalgia for how fucking lame we all used to be…still are. But it was still kind of apt. The music wasn’t populist ass shaking groove or dumb party music. There was a lot of math involved. And strange, discordant rhythms, faraway and exotic sounds generated by wires and mainframes looped and spliced to hallucinogenic, disorienting wonder. Aphex Twin and Oval and Boards of Canada and Autechre and so many others making sound that you could sometimes dance to, but more often just get lost in. I dug on those beats in the murk, but it was then gentler, more melodic entries or the dramatic, ominous sways of mood that stuck with me.

(Continues to stick with me.)

Squarepusher’s 2001 album Go Plastic is full of all the hallmarks and tropes that defined the IDM scene of the late '90s/early '00s, but it also contains the wonderful “Tommib,” a short piece of beautiful synthesizer that excels because of its brevity. Just over a minute long, the song’s effect works according to your mood, a gorgeous and hopeful new dawn, the soundtrack to opening your eyes as the sun peeks through your window in the morning, or a crestfallen and dreamy wistful haze as you watch your love turn and walk away from you forever. And then it ends before you’re even aware of what’s transpired or how full of life every single moment is.

And so, IDM or EDM or whatever, to me “Tommib” and the beautiful pieces of electronic music that came before, or continue to stream after, don’t really need to be weighed down by written descriptors (even if they do make it a million times easier for writers like me to describe them) or qualifiers. At the end of the day, so much of this music has more in common with traditional classical composition anyway…just for computers instead of brass and wind.

I do love the cinematic.

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