As people around the world use the new year as a welcome opportunity to put their mistakes behind them, Juan Antonio Nieto does the opposite. He celebrates the mistake, the glitch, the digital error; he calls his cassette Imperfect and revels in the imperfections.
These are the sounds that many would eschew: the skipping disc, the dial-up error, the dropped call, the spinning rainbow of death. Yet together they make a beautiful brand of harmonic convergence. Sure, Nieto helps them along the way by adding a bit of drone, like extra frosting on a broken cake. But Nieto’s greatest contribution is that he listens until he finds something lovable. These glitches reward his attention by occasionally welding themselves to each other, forming random patterns that seem intentional. “A3” is particularly melodic, with a repeating pop like a drum and a musical refrain. One error even sounds like a tambourine. In “A4”, the sound of a whirlwind enters, dissipates, then enters again. Nothing is safe in this desert. But more often than not, the tape sounds like a digital sea, with wave upon wave of static surge, like an old television channel at the end of the broadcast day.
We are likely to hear more such releases as we pass further into the digital era, waiting for the First Machine War or Skynet. Digital errors are already woven into our existence, taking the place of vinyl skips, frayed electrical cords and fried toasters. These modern mistakes supplanted others: cracked pots, smudged paintings, ruined meals. There have always been imperfections in the universe. The challenge is, how to regard them? In Japanese culture, imperfection is often celebrated as a source of deeper beauty. In fashion, a blemish is often called a beauty mark. And people themselves are more endearing once we can see their flaws, and find them relatable. Nieto’s sound sculptures urge us to think before we discard.
The (slight) irony of the release is that the presentation is anything but imperfect. With eight different covers, lovingly presented against offsetting backgrounds, the cassettes look like pop art, suitable for framing. It’s also worth mentioning that this is an album of digital errors presented in analog format, which will itself degrade over time, producing a second generation of imperfection. To which we say: bring on the beauty. (Richard Allen)