Here's a look at several interesting recordings in the world of electronic music, everything from ambient to drum n' bass to raucous Big Beat dance music.
Art of Noise, The Seduction of Claude Debussy (ZTT)
Lovers of ambient music, pioneered in the 1970s by acts such as Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream, trace the genre's roots to 19th century French composer Claude Debussy who "painted" his musical landscapes in lush impressionist tones (much the way Monet painted pictures) that soothed listeners. So it's a little strange that Art of Noise, a band that has always been on the cutting edge of electronic music but more in the experimental, agitated vein of Kraftwerk and avant-garde composer John Cage, is paying tribute to Debussy.
Even odder is inclusion of British actor John Hurt, who narrates The Seduction of Claude Debussy. Of course, most concept albums are pretty weird anyway and this one is no exception. We hear from old friends like rapper Rakim who gives props to French poet Baudelaire. There's also a lot of hoo-ha about the poet Paul Verlaine. And a bizarre "index" throughout the liner notes that includes everything from cubism to dada to Susan Sarandon. Go figure.
Lush, orchestral arrangements are doused with operatic singing or rap. Some tracks are set to frantic drum n' bass beats. Piano and horns jazz things up in other places. A few tunes are simply booty shakin' dance songs. But don't get too unwound, because before you know it, Hurt is back babbling weird factoids about Debussy. It's a very snooty, highbrow affair. And it sounds lovely. Grade B.
Various Artists, Y2K: Beat The Clock (Columbia)
If it's dance music you want, you could do worse than Y2K: Beat the Clock, a compilation of fast, furious electronic junk by some of the genre's biggest names. It's full of techno, Big Beat and whatever you call what Bjork does. Some of this stuff club kids already know, such as Fatboy Slim's The Rockafeller Skank, Lo Fidelity Allstars' Blisters On My Brain and Propellerheads' Bang On. The Prodigy gives us Out of Space. Bjork offers Joga. Course, you've got your Orb, your Crystal Method, and what electronic mix would be complete without _ drumroll, please _ the Chemical Brothers? And, hey, why not toss on Beat The Clock from old school electronic gurus Sparks? Grade B.
Various Artists, Unknownwerks: The New Crop of American Electronic Artists (Astralwerks)
Trust the folks at Astralwerks to chart the course of electronic music. After all, the label is home to stars such as the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and Air. These guys are proponents of the stuff. Unknownwerks is the first in a series of compilations of previously unrecorded artists.
So how does the future look? Pretty sunny. That's right, Floridians should be proud. We're represented twice on the 12-song disc. Miami's Metrodub kicks things off with the organic, jazzy Cut Up Music. Atnarko Bear, from Orlando, offers the manic, if not unremarkable, house cut This Time, complete with disco hand claps, requisite wailing diva and those flying saucer-sounding synths.
Unknownwerks really gets its groove on with the schizo Hallucination Generation by Hexx (from New Orleans). It's a brash, eclectic mesh of spoken word samples mixed with grinding electric guitars and a tempo that's all over the place. Hard Hit by Central from _ of all places _ Bloomington, Ill., is a delightful Big Beats cut-and-paste number featuring bouncy 1960s organ with hip hop beats. Funk out with the immensely laid back and groovy King of the Bad Road by Le Pimp from Los Angeles. Liner notes inform us that Mr. Pimp sports a fur fedora and silver teeth, winning him "favor with ladies from coast to coast."' Grade B-.
u-ziq, Royal Astronomy (Astralwerks)
I can't tell you how to pronounce u-ziq's name, but I can tell you he is considered one of electronic music's most innovative creators. Royal Astronomy, his fifth album, shows why. u-ziq takes contemporary electronic music to another level. Or, perhaps, he returns its focus from sampling back to the kind of composition and experimentation made famous by the genre's forefathers _ guys like Steve Reich, Brian Eno and Yellow Magic Orchestra's Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Listen to the stirring strings and chimes on Scaling, the disc's opener, which leads into The Hwicci Song, a gorgeous hodgepodge of Stravinsky-sounding orchestration and understated, old school hip-hop scratching. Things get better and better. Slice, with its church bells and squiggly synths, is an engaging, looping work. Like a Philip Glass composition, it turns into itself, a bubble, over and over, the sonic equivalent of watching an amoeba under a microscope.
Clearly this u-ziq has studied music theory. He doesn't churn out endless repetitive synth garbage set to beats. Dare I say he's a composer? Royal Astronomy is crafted, not pasted together willy nilly from a DJ's record archives. It's a beautiful and daring disc, a welcome alternative to the recycled same old, same old of too much of today's electronic music. Grade A-
_ GINA VIVNETTO, Times Staff Writer