OK Computer

For the creative person on your shopping list, Oval has the perfect gift. Skotodesk, “an interactive authoring environment for personal desktop audio,” could be licensed to Mattel as My First Electronic Music System. Its “object-oriented” interface allows the user to choose from 64 samples of Oval’s music, named “blei” and “finegrain” and such, and drag them to a desktop. Then add simple effects. Boys and girls six and up can save selections, and string them together to build their own “ovalprocess” compositions!

Only problem: You can’t take it home.

Skotodesk is more than software; it’s a fetish object. A grid of lucite panels etched with future-baroque designs and lit internally, Skotodesk, installed at Alleged Galleries, requires the user to hover before it like the technician at some research institute in France. Why has Oval put an off-the-shelf G4 inside a terminal Lieutenant Uhuru might have played on the rec deck of the Enterprise? Why not just post “ovalprocess” software for download? Two reasons. Oval wants to restore the mystique of Technology to electronic music. And perhaps if you could make your own ovalmusik, you wouldn’t buy his.

That would be a shame, because his is better. Skotodesk is a dumbed-down version of Oval’s rig—the limit of eight samples per screen is a major drawback—but Oval really is the most musical of electronic composers. He may call music “audio content,” pompous prick, but his recent Ovalprocess (Thrill Jockey) is practically a symphony, all his clicks and bleeps and dying-hard-drive decrescendos minutely treated and arranged in a satisfying emotional sweep.

In three hours of fiddling with Skotodesk, the best I could get reminded me of Flying Saucer Attack, but I learned something about composing—how to gradually vary the mixture and volume of the samples in my selections. And it was more interesting than anything I ever got thunking chords on the flat-top box. Mattel, you listening? —David Krasnow

Phase Contrast

Operadio is a curious umbrella title for the Kitchen’s December 6 double bill of Kyle Gann’s Custer and Sitting Bull and Phil Kline’s Into the Fire. Intended for future broadcasts on NPR, both music-theater pieces gain impact from contrast between live and electronic sounds—contrasts that get wiped out by radio transmission. That said, both works’ messages—musical and verbal—dominate their media.

Gann draws on Custer’s writings, statements by Sitting Bull, and even what one spiritualist attributed to the general’s ghost in a post-Little Big Horn appearance to the victorious Sioux chieftain. The focus is on both warriors’ pride, their sense of their own nobility, and the obscene violence that ensued—and ensues in all wars. At the Kitchen, the composer spoke and sang the words against an electronic score built on just intonation. Gann’s relatively simple melodies flourished in microtonal scales containing 20 or 30 (or more) pitches per octave, scales with which composers like Harry Partch and Jean Eaton proved that dissonance on paper could hit the ear with a fresh, natural consonance. Gann’s delivery of rhythmic speech refrains also suggested a counterpoint with a hidden, or at least unheard, other rhythm.

Kline’s Into the Fire was billed as a work-in-progress based on Luc Sante’s recent writings. Multiple video speeches slipping out of phase, live and lyrical music from a mezzo-soprano (the wonderful Alexandra Montano) and an instrumental trio, and readings by Sante, Kline, Eve Beglarian, and others—it all gave proof that Kline is more than the boom-box boy his publicity spotlights, although boom boxes resonated under 24 of the audience seats. —Leighton Kerner

Metalheadz Machine Music

The supposed corpse of drum’n’bass got a momentary revival last Thursday for Global Bass, the city’s newest and largest d’n’b night, with a Limelight crowd 2000 strong. With musclemen Dieselboy, Shimon, and Andy C on the decks, the music sometimes risked strangling the audience with a barrage of beefy basslines that made you feel like you were at a heavy metal show rather than listening to a splinter genre of techno. Exclaimed one friend while shaking his long hair in the air, “I’m at a Slayer concert!”

While d’n’b DJs are often criticized for being good selectors with bad technique, the lineup, which also included Metalheadz stalwart Randall, was stacked with a veritable army of DJ’s DJs—men whose collective prowess on the decks goes unmatched in terms of precision and dexterity. Bold, brash beats marked Philly-based Dieselboy’s set, demonstrating why he stands neck-and-neck with U.K. luminaries like Andy C. He mixed Dillinja’s now classic (but overplayed) “Nasty Wayz” and deftly blended it with another furious rockist record. If there’s one complaint about Dieselboy, it’s that he’s almost too good—thanks to his maniacal attention to detail, his sets tend to flatline. If Dieselboy’s set was heavy on the steroids, Randall showed what’s possible when a d’n’b DJ takes a breather—by playing the most sexed-up grooves of the night, piecing together a journey that was sweet and too short.

Though man-of-the-hour Andy C’s music was often more of the same in terms of brawny basslines, he unveiled a litany of clever tricks. As Bad Company’s “Thumpa/Flashback” blared across the Limelight—its wailing vocals backed by a thundering roar of distorted bass—Andy C interrupted the flow for just a second with “Nasty Wayz.” He teased the audience with the unmistakable melody—and moved onto the next record. It was just a taste, and a subtle but effective way to show who’s the man. —Tricia Romano

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