Indiana's female black producer Jlin (Jerrilynn Patton) popularized
Chicago's street dance "footwork".
Dark Energy (Planet Mu, 2015), released a few months after footwork pioneer DJ Rashad had died of an overdose,
concocts a dense jungle of ultrasound beats and syllabic samples, borrowing
not only from electronic dance music but also from
the techniques of "concrete" music and free-form collage.
Jlin assembles a vast percussive palette and uses it to
compose a wordless thriller, never brutal but always nerve-wracking.
Patton's work on rhythm evokes Ikue Mori's Garden (1996)
the dancefloor of
and her work on vocals belongs to a tradition that harkens back
to Morton Subotnick's Touch
and Karlheinz Stockhausen's Hymnen.
Black Ballet, is misleading: Michael Nyman's symphonic minimalism coupled with abstract vocals; but the
gothic fervor is emblematic of the rest.
Machine-gun polyrhythms and chopped Indian melodies fuel Unknown Tongues,
a more typical sonic assault.
The marching androids and Ethiopian percussionists of the brief Black Diamond
and the swarms of titanium bees vibrating like thousands of tiny earthquakes in Expand (a collaboration with Holly Herndon)
forge a new form of ballet.
Sometimes Jlin abandons the emphasis and retreats into subtlety: more than a soundtrack to sex, Erotic Heat (a 2011 track) sounds like a collage of inaudible noise picked up by a microscopic microphone inside an electric circuit.
The propulsive dadaist pantomime Infrared and the bouncing elastic distorted Ra that seems to elaborate on it are as linear as Jlin can get.
The album's pathos peaks with the
psychodrama for intricate industrial beats and random sinister voices Guantanamo
and with the chaotic psychodrama Abnormal Restriction.
Much of the original frenzy is lost on
Black Origami (Planet Mu, 2017), a much more conventional
work of electronic dance music with ethnic influences (perhaps the effect
of working with India-based choreographer Avril Stormy Unger).
Black Origami sounds like a session with fourth-world trumpeter Jon Hassell and a Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria.
Alas, few of the other pieces manage to integrate the exotic instruments in
a creative manner. Mostly we get a parade of tedious exotic sketches like
Kyanite, an elegant but facile collage of vocal games, is the footwork
equivalent of the chill room.
A volley of randomly pounding beats cannot rescue Hatshepsut from its lack of both energy and imagination.
Carbon 7 (161) sounds like a passable remix of
Pink Floyd's Money.
Holy Child, a collaboration with minimalist composer William Basinski,
fills the pulsating soundscape with floating imploring female voices.
Even more "ambient" in spirit is the brief Calcination, not too far from
Enya 's new-age music.
After a while, the Afro-cuban percussions and the sampled "pan-cultural" voices
become routine and lose their charming power.
Flirting with hip-hop on Never Created Never Destroyed (a collaboration
with rapper Dope Saint Jude) does not help, although the song ends up being
a cute send-up of the genre.
Even 1%, another Herndon collaboration, fails to build momentum after
having thrown into the mix an arsenal of vocal and percussive tools.
Thankfully, the album closes with the apocalyptic shamanic dance Challenge, but it's a case of too little too late.
This album sounds like a retreat into safe territory.
If Dark Energy was a relentless nightmare, Black Origami is the
diligent homework of an aspiring ethnographer.
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