VA: invalidObject Series

The incredible invalidObject Series was released in 2000 by Christopher Murphy's Fällt label as twenty-four three-inch c.d.s. The series' stylistic breadth ranges from the minimalistic microsound of Richard Chartier to the abrasive noise of V/VM. Each of the twenty-four artists contributes fifteen one-minute tracks, the sum-total of 360 minutes offering a defining portrait of abstract electronic musics at the turn of the millennium. Apparently the invalidObject titles originate from the original twenty-four JavaScript reserved words (break; case; comment; continue; default; delete; do; else; export; for; function; if; import; in; label; new; return; switch; this; typeof; var; void; while; & with). There are obvious parallels with Raster-Noton's 20' to 2000 series, whereby twelve artists composed a twenty-minute work, one for each month, in advance of the millennial change. While the latter was awarded deservedly the 'Golden Nica' from the Ars Electronica in 2000, Fällt's series ably matches it in conceptual rigour and musical quality.

But why review a project that's now three year's old? Fällt made the entire set available through its web site as free .mp3 files in October and November, 2000 (resulting in an excess of 60,000 downloads), and again in September and October, 2001 (when over 250,000 downloads were made). To our collective betterment, the label is again making the series freely available but for April, 2003 only. It's therefore an opportune time to spread the Fällt gospel and make this bounty of aural riches known to all.

The opening section, Pita's “Break,” is similar in style to “Get Out,” although the one-minute durations force Rehberg to create economical, concise vignettes of screeching shards, bristling static, or becalmed drones rather than extended forays. In fact, this constraint turns out to be efficacious for all contributors, as each track must obviously make its individual case with dispatch before being supplanted by its successor. Enforced concision hardly seems to undermine any of the artists' efforts, as their compositions, generally full of rich sonic detail, seem to unfold naturally in spite of their brevity. For example, Kim Cascone's “Delete” benefits from the arrangement, as each piece of glistening, drifting electronics presents itself with aggressive force, rather than slowly and imperceptibly mutating over the span of, say, forty minutes; furthermore, there is an extroverted quality (perhaps provoked by the one-minute duration) that contrasts with the hermetic aura of Cascone's Cathode Flower (even though the Fällt tracks use some of the same sound sources). Pita, Scanner, Junior Varsity KM, Warmdesk, Ekkehard Ehlers, Pimmon, Andreas Berthling, and Later Days likewise create fifteen distinct mini-compositions teeming with ideas and sonic detail. Some artists do, however, circumvent the temporal constraint by allowing the interval between tracks to be a mere hiccup appearing within a singular piece that extends across many minutes. Rabelais's “Void,” for example, functions as an extended drone-like work of glacial, drifting electronics, even though it's broken up into fifteen one-minute sections; Rsundin's “Default” is also a singular composition of microsound electronics and field recordings which just happens to be split up into one-minute segments.

As stated, there is a vast scope of musics offered. Microsound is represented by, obviously, Chartier's “Typeof.” As the Fällt web site astutely notes, his use of negative space and extreme restraint makes for provocative results. “01,” for example, uses less than six seconds of audio events within the minute duration. Nosei Sakata's (*0) “Label” is also extremely minimalistic in its restricted reliance upon high and low sine waves for source materials. Stephan Mathieu's tracks similarly use a minimal number of elements which are then elaborated upon using processing. A variety of tones—razor, anvil, sine, cycling, pulsating, surging—permeate the formal precision of Taylor Deupree's “Continue.” Goem's “Switch” also exemplifies a reliance upon minimal/microsound electronics.

A more ambient approach is provided by Rsundin's “Default,” constructed using field recordings made in California and Scandinavia . Barely audible piano notes, people talking, seagulls, lapping waves, and creaking combine to conjure a vivid aural landscape. Similarly, in eM's “Import,” one hears waves crashing ashore, distant boat horns, machinery, and muffled voices, in a manner that's sometimes reminiscent of Ingram Marshall's “Fog Tropes” in its integration of musical and sampled environmental sounds. Another ambient exercise is “Return,” wherein Eloy Anzola's electronics simulate surging, billowing gusts of digital winds and ambient waves of echoing tones.

Steve Roden's “For” (fifteen one-minute ‘motion studies') is a particularly imaginative exercise in exploiting minimalistic source materials to maximum effect. Roden uses the sound of a contact microphone rubbed along an arm or with feet, tapped with fingers, dragged along the floor, clutched within palms, and pressed against the head or inside the mouth. The results are certainly as ‘musical' as much else in the series, but the nature of their origins cannot help but induce bemusement. “Foreground 2” sounds like a soft church organ drone, when it's in fact a mic dragged along the floor. “Forehead 3” has an insectoid quality, as the wavering tones suggest keyboards and even violins. Presumably Warmdesk adopts a similar strategy in his “Function,” as the fifteen tracks are equated with a radiator, fiberglass insulation, and a humidifier. In this case, however, any literal aural connection to those materials is severed as the pieces are expanded upon to become compelling abstract compositions. Many tracks have a rollicking, light-hearted IDM style, suggestive of DAT Politics, Two Lone Swordsmen, or Plaid.

Many artists offer a wide-ranging palette of styles and sound treatments. Scanner's “Case” pieces are predominantly ambient snippets of diverse instrumental colour and doctored, sampled voices that often exude an elegiac quality reminiscent of his Derek Jarman tribute The Garden is Full of Metal. Cray's “Comment” is beatless DSP comprised of smears, slatherings, and croaking, percussive pluckings of rupturing static, whirring tones, and rattling percussion. In “While,” Pimmon uses looping themes of densely detailed shimmering, flickering noises, and with “or $child = 1;” he even simulates the hee-hawing of farm animals. Ekkehard Ehlers continues the approach he explores on the Mille Plateaux release Betrieb, again using samples from classical composers Arnold Schönberg (most identifiably Verklärte Nacht) and Charles Ives to generate loops. Christening himself a 'beserk troglodyte with a powerbook,' Brad Laner (Electric Company) creates fifteen robust mini-compositions filled with whistling, singing, grinding tones, percussive rattling, braying voices, screeching fanfares, and even some classical string and drum segments.

At the other extreme one finds V/VM's “If.” The word ‘Insane' accompanies the track listing, a hint of the abrasion bleeding through the tracks. Most are grindingly assaultive (although some becalmed interludes appear as a welcome respite from the immense, roaring blasts of noise), but again their short duration makes even these merciless tracks bearable. Massimo's “Var” would also hardly be categorized as microsound. Aside from some brief quiet moments, the pieces could be described as caustic, industrial, abrasive, and screeching, filled with the sounds of hammering, anvil strikes, and feedback.

While most of the contributions are notable, some in particular invite extended comment. Folder's “Else,” for example, demonstrates how the one-minute constraint can be used to remarkable conceptual and artistic advantage. Constructed from four sources recorded synchronously at four locations (Berkeley, Sydney, New York, Sydney), the field recordings present the ambient sounds of the outdoors, birds, people talking, and machinery. The first track presents the four sources a single time in dissimilar durations. Gradually, however, the segments become more regulated and rhythms are created as a result. '05' deploys 2-second intervals, whereas '06' uses 1-second, '07' half-second, and '08' quarter-second. This system carries on until waves of thrumming gradually mount and intensify, rendering the natural origins unrecognizable, and transforming them into pure sound. By '15,' the four elements become a single seamless stream of layered elements, although a lovely coda returns the piece to an unadulterated singular source of ambient noise, birds, people talking, and a female voice asking “Do you love him?”

Later Days' preference for the moniker 'Sonic Gardener' in place of 'DSP Engineer' serves as an apt metaphor for most of the contributors, as each one cultivates a unique crop of sonic materials using personalized techniques. Admittedly, one's impression of the series would be different if a single three-inch c.d. of one artist were evaluated; then, the release might seem slight, too modest, and inconsequential, the one-minute durations too great a handicap towards creating tracks of significant substance. A much different impression results when the series is broached in its entirety. A full immersion into the entire six hours generates a veritable re-calibration in one's listening, so much so that alien sounds (such as a contact mic being dragged across the floor) become as eminently musical as the most irresistible top-40 single that's hopelessly lodged in your mind. In short, what we have here is an astonishing wealth and stylistic range of soundscapes, quite literally an embarrassment of riches. And consider once again how generous Fällt is for making it freely available. Now wouldn't it be fantastic if Raster-Noton could be convinced to follow suit and make its 20' to 2000 series freely available too?

April 2003