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The itch to glitch


The snaps, crackles and pops of glitch electronica have been bubbling underneath a foamy concoction of laptop techno and dub for years, surfacing mainly under the auspices of Germany's Mille Plateaux and ~scape labels, but remaining a marginal music form. That changed this year, when the glitch revolution burst from its cauldron so powerfully that even Playboy magazine and Jay Leno took notice. Mille Plateaux's three-CD compilation, Clicks & Cuts 2, was reviewed in the June issue of Playboy with such vigor, even the centerfold was taking notice from her couch in the middle.

The reason for this sudden rise in the popularity of an inherently avant-garde music? It's something of a mystery. Perhaps, though, when mixing genres and sub-genres together, there's always the possibility of catching all interested parties in the crosshairs. In this case, IDM, house, ambient, collage, dub, experimental and psychoacoustics enthusiasts alike found common ground.

But Clicks & Cuts 2 and Mille Plateaux's other 2001 release, Electric Ladyland: Clickhop Version 1.0, are more than mere electronic music hybrids. They're the products of successful sound experiments: Finnish composer Vladislav Delay's use of house music (minus the diva, plus the reverb effects) in his wonderful "Holiday"; Cyclo and Pan Sonic's manipulation of tones and bleeps into rhythms; Kit Clayton's glitch take on steel-drum music; the Rip-off Artists' sonic monster movie.

What's more, some of the year's most interesting glitches happened stateside. Defiant experimenters Lesser, Blechtum from Blechdom, Kid 606 and Matmos (the latter two also featured on Clicks & Cuts 2) not only shed the sound constraints of European electronic music, they completely blew any preconceptions of the lab-coated electronic sound technician out of the water. There was an almost punk attitude: Lesser with his redneck-style handlebar moustache and barrage of machine-fart sounds; the Blechtum ladies' fecal-oriented nursery rhymes and spastic breakbeats; Kid 606 forging a new direction in hip-hop through splices.

And, finally, there was Matmos' bold introduction of the concept cut-up album. Literally. A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure (Matador) could have easily been a novelty recording in that all its sounds were recorded in hospital operating rooms. But instead, Matmos' Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt constructed an almost giddily danceable, highly experimental recording that pairs liposuction with clarinets and bonesaws with bass.

The group's craftiness proved so impressive that celebrity sound explorer Bjork begged them to collaborate on her Vespertine recording, also released this year. By October, Matmos was up there with the Icelandic pixie, performing on "The Tonight Show." Roll over Beethoven, the glitch has landed.

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