Various Artists ARCHIPELAGO

1. Rhomb "Lunatic"
2. Csero "Pikoliftor"
3. Seofon "Immanent"
4. Thermal "Span"
5. Dean Santomieri "Crude Rotation"
6. eM "Click Pop"

Archipalego is a musical collective of experimental electronic musicians from the San Francisco Bay area. It is sponsored by Michael Bentley's label The Foundry, known for its daring forays into sonic manipulation. Past work by the various musicians has covered the gamut, ranging from melodic and tribal to completely abstract noise. In this handsomely packaged set of 6 mini 3" CDs, each running about 20 minutes, I'd have to say the emphasis is on the latter. Much of the set could be summed up in the title of the final disc, "Click Pop." That is, there are a lot of clicks and pops on it. For example, Csero's "Pikoliftor" literally sounds like the disc is skipping frequently. The sound gets more rapid and intense, and more electronic noises gradually build on this. Csero is actually Ian Stokes, the brother of ambient artist Saul Stokes. Like his brother, Ian builds his own synthesizers and creates his own sound world. The similarity largely ends there, however. This collection is abstract and quite challenging, definitely not for the faint of heart. Dean Santomieri's "Crude Rotation" sounds like news samples from old scratchy LPs, with added white noise, static, and occasional stabs of electronics. It actually is fascinating, but also very daring, and occasionally scary, as on "Ati Noko," a poem about dangerous obsession that seems to combine the story of the serpent in Genesis with a dash of Dracula. Julie Oxendale's voice is enchanting, even though the end result is disturbing. Quieter but no less abstract is the track "Rite of Springs," which pushes the vocal samples into the background, focusing on sparse soundscapes of muted bells, something akin to footsteps in the snow, a jack-in-the-box winding up, and others.

Not all is scratches, skips, and random noise collages. Joshua Maremont's disc features "Main Span - Blues for Muru," a 19-minute piece that would sit alongside more mainstream music, though only very relatively speaking. Blending hip hop beats and a trace of jazz and ambient elements, this is a relaxed, very cool, laid back offering, easily my favorite piece of the six-disc set. I think Pete Namlook fans would be right at home with this one. The Seofon disc also has some really nice chugging rhythms, particularly on "Skyle," a surprisingly straightforward toe-tapper with some cool atmospheric layers. The Rhomb disc is mellower than the rest, effectively letting an assortment of different electronic sounds breathe through a quiet canvas. Still, it certainly isn't going to be on Billboard's chart anytime sooner than the rest, and of course, I'm sure any of these artists would cringe at the thought, as that's clearly not the intent here. I can't begin to guess where the inspiration comes from most of the selections, or the hidden meanings within. But it could be an odd fascination of sorts to spend a lifetime trying.

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2000 Phil Derby / Sequences Magazine