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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Richie Hawtin
DE9: Transitions
NovaMute

Rating: 7.5/10 ?


January 3, 2006
It's not so much a workstation as it is a fortress of solitude. Surrounded by computer screens with colorful graphs and pulsing charts, Richie Hawtin sits at his desk, intently studying their every movement. Cramped as the space is, the area is conspicuously free of clutter. Nowhere do you find bobble-head dolls, pet photos or comic book figurines. It's an insular environment that's organized and clean, a place where somebody who's as detail-obsessed as Hawtin can focus on the intricacies of electronic composition without distraction. And something tells me he didn't go around gathering up armfuls of stray papers, fast-food containers and old clothes and throwing them into a closet just before the cameras arrived. Hawtin seems too meticulous to let the place go like that.

Here, in this mini-Mission Control, is where Hawtin labored away on DE9: Transitions. You'll see the studio on the DVD that accompanies the electronic artist's latest recording project. A Whitman Sampler of features, the DVD also contains futuristic, avant-garde videos for "The Tunnel" and "We (All) Search" and extensive concert footage of Hawtin from Time Warp, a German rave that's one of the biggest electronic music festivals in the world. The real prize on the DVD, however, is a 96-minute 5.1 Surround Sound version of DE9: Transitions. It's the fully realized version of Hawtin's vision, a shape-shifting, seamlessly sculpted work of sonorous, flowing electronica and high-energy techno that's ambitious in scope, densely textured and utterly hypnotic. Pared down, the 75-minute CD of Hawtin's work included here allows you to listen on your garden-variety boombox, but it's not the same.

The third installment of Hawtins' DE9 series, Transitions sees Hawtin gutting and rearranging the electronic music of his contemporaries with ProTools and Abelton Live software - tools previously unavailable to Hawtin. Always on the cutting edge, Hawtin released Decks, EFX & 909, the first of his DE9 forays, in 1999, and it features multi-layered tracks he built using digital and analog effects. It was a foreshadowing of what Hawtin would do in 2005 with DE9: Transitions. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Four years ago, Hawtin pulled the tarp off DE9: Closer To The Edit, which showcased Hawtin's editing and mixing abilities. But this was before Abelton Live. With it, a whole new world opened up for Hawtin. Using Abelton Live and ProTools, he deconstructed his own material and unreleased tracks from a list of artists so long and involved that it makes going through the geneology of Adam and Eve seem like a one-hour job for a clerk at Kinko's. Hawtin immerses himself in the minutiae of splicing together what could be hundreds of pieces of music from artists like Plastikman, hot-shit producer Ricardo Villalobos and acts like Pan Sonic, Sleep Archive, DBX, Matthew Dear, the Kooky Scientist and a host of others. The ballsy part of this project is that Hawtin rearranges their works and mashes them together into something their own mothers wouldn't recognize, and that gives him carte blanche to rename everything himself - legalities be damned. But the real trick here is how smooth the transitions are within each newly formed track. To get a feel for this, pop the 96-minute version of Transitions into the DVD player and watch the TV screen. It shows you how the various pieces of music in each track weave in and out of Hawtin's newly formed creation. After awhile, the thrill wears off, but it's still fascinating to see exactly how Hawtin does it.

And he's more than happy to reveal his secrets. On the documentary, Hawtin pulls back the wizard's curtain and enthusiastically explains how this new technology allows him to mix longer cuts of music, the key factor in this project. Specifically, he tells you how he gets from Point A to Point B, but it's not the destination that's important. It's the transition, that mother of all DJ moves that proves just how slick you are. You might need a degree in computer science to understand it all, but Hawtin's excitement for the project comes through loud and clear, and honestly, it's fairly easy even for laymen such as myself to understand the theory behind it. The execution is something else entirely, but if you're into the technology, this is a lecture you don't want to miss. The same goes for the album itself.

A vigorous techno workout with a fluidity of movement that defies words, DE9: Transitions has an armada of galloping beats that range from pulsating and huge to muted or skittering or glassy. It races along like a luge run or a school of dolphins jumping in and out of the water. After the windswept desolation, lonely seagull bleat and jet takeoff of "Welcomm(In)," DE9: Transitions locks into ever-evolving grooves that mutate and die, and then reappear again and again. The echoing aquatic beauty of "Subtracting," with its reverberating submarine tones and rounded, almost tribal beats, jumps out at you, but not many tracks do. That's because Hawtin doesn't break things off. Everything seems interconnected, like a highway system viewed from high above. Parts exit on off-ramps and then reappear, emerging back into traffic without warning. The early Aphex Twin-style ambient textures of "Subtracting" move right into "Prebuild" without interruption, as do the steel drum tones of "TZ Entry Point" and "Adding And." But the most glaring example comes with the triplet grouping of "Reduction And," "Seduction," and "Minimal Master." Stylish background Moog-scapes offer a running canvas, a sort of green screen for electronic squiggles, electronic washes, shooting-star synth lines and more steel drum banging. Throughout, the continual surging tide of whirr keeps things grounded.

For sheer urgency, you can't beat "The Tunnel." A smoothed out, more refined version of The Crystal Method's Big Beat sound, "The Tunnel" is one of the sleekest electronic tracks of this or any year. Supported by a steady, unrelenting backbeat, "The Tunnel" introduces the warped echo of Boards of Canada and mixes it with glowing ping-pong blips that seem to come from everywhere for an ultra-cool spy movie vibe that runs headlong into the unsettling, ominous undercurrent of "Minimission." And the cycle of Transitions' life continues. There's an action-adventure movie in Jerry Bruckheimer's mind that cries out for such throbbing sonic activity in its soundtrack.

Though DE9: Transitions moves along at a fast pace, it glides along so easily that time becomes a moot issue. But a sort of flaccid sameness settles over the proceedings after "The Tunnel" and an unavoidable monotony ensues. It's like someone turned up the volume on a recording of a human heartbeat and the thumping bass just forges mindlessly ahead. Had Hawtin expelled some of the ballast, DE9: Transitions could have been one of those landmark records that steers a genre to new heights of innovation. That it falls somewhat short is no slight against Hawtin. More often than not, DE9: Transitions keeps you enthralled in a trance-like state, glued to the speakers to find out what layers of sound Hawtin will fuse together next and to see if you can catch where the transitions occur. Or you could dance awkwardly to it in your living room slathered in day-glow paint like myself.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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