A transparent bag with a simple, barely tagged cassette inside. This is the kind of objective statement that upstart label Aught prefer to make with the music they publish: what you see is what you don’t get (an album as ‘work of art’ in the conventional sense). Instead, what you get is almost ephemeral, easily lost and practically useless, which is to say the kind of art that remains true to a negativity that is starkly modern. Of course, buying the album from Bandcamp and downloading a bunch of FLACs is eerily similar, a digital conversion that is bound to drown amidst a million other files within folders and subfolders of endlessly growing collections of rare, not easily seen (or even heard, given the format) music. An object such as this is not meant to be archived, not meant to be eternalized in the folding and unfolding of a personal history that finds resonance in others’ archives and others’ narratives. It is always already obscure, and it dissolves memory by its mere acquisition, by its disposable nature and a binary-code elusiveness that will always be so for those not initiated. Aught’s releases grant no wishes to collectors or “music fans” (as consumers of music) since, whether in cassette or digital form, they are bound to erode and disappear at some point in time, even if that loss takes more than a lifetime.
The album itself, De Leon‘s self-titled effort, follows this philosophy closely. Perhaps I’m just bad at the internet, but I was simply not able to find anything on the artist, not a short bio, other music, nothing. In due time, while browsing my files I will simply have forgotten what this music was, and that’s precisely the moment when re-listening is most worth it, not as re-enactment of a moment lost but as re-activation of an artwork that might be completely ‘out of time’, less than a memory. However, it might also be that what this music wants is exactly to be let go, to be experienced for as long as you desire and then simply let adrift. In a way, it has already changed you, like a cybernetic attachment (or update, or even a virus) it has already been assimilated by your system in ways that might not be obvious except for a perspective that remains coded in the very, very long-term. Thus, there is no point in attempting to sacralize something that thrives in obscurity with a history it will always resist: it is not part of a movement, it is hard to categorize into a genre, the pieces don’t even have names… all in all, this little 30-minute album evades any and all attempts at making it into something significant.
So, what does such a thing sound like? De Leon appropriates the particular tones of the Javanese gamelan orchestra and integrates them with bits of electronics akin to those found in many an IDM album to produce a broken sense of continuity. This represents, already, a series of contradictions. First, the gamelan is a collective form of music-making, a ceremonial enjoyment of community building as each player contributes a line of sound to the overall ensemble, which constantly adapts to the rhythmical flow and style of all the musicians involved. As an element of a digital, rationalized system that becomes a piece of electronic music, it is far from artisanal, and it feels anything but collective. Every sound seems to have been individualized, cut short from the natural resonance a gamelan maintains so that there is little harmonic interaction: melody prevails, even if that means, as in most electronic music that tends towards the experimental, that it is always disintegrating in some way. This leads us to the second contradiction: the sound of the gamelan is meant to be continuous, in all of its polyphonic interactions, for it is both a model of communal life and a ritual that affirms its inherently elastic order. Individualized and intervened by electronic sounds, such an order is dismembered, and a low-key tension arises, one that is proper not to the polyphony of an idealized social totality but to that of an urban way of life, the noises of the city playing off each other to produce a whole that is underscored by a systemic violence, one that spasmodically rushes back and forth at the back of the head. It is a whole that will never be complete, that will never be one, and it is in this constant obscurity where this kind of music shines the most, fragmentation being its very own essence. To integrate the gamelan and electronic production like this album does is to make a collage of oppositions that cannot be resolved, an appeal to the kind of metaphorical thought that in bringing ‘East’ and ‘West’ together finds no lessons or illuminating realizations, coming to terms instead with the irreducibility of experience as it subtly modifies the system by sheer ephemerality, forgetfulness, and the sudden re-programming of situations they potentially create.
In the end, the music is consequent with the object it is represented by, in manners that might not be, at first, evident at all. However, the collages it delineates slowly make themselves known, crafting a deeply interesting work that stylishly begins with the analog-digital but builds something ever more thought-provoking as it comes to realize its short, intense EP-length life. If anything mentioned in this review sounds like your thing, then do rush to Aught’s storefront and make yourself the proud new owner of something so special it cannot help but be something also joyfully insignificant, perhaps like life itself. (David Murrieta)