Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Night Before the Death of the Sampling Virus

Let's have a look at Otomo Yoshihide's The Night Before the Death of the Sampling Virus, a fascinating CD that came out in 1993. It's a collection of 77 disjointed snippets of noise, some of which are only a few seconds long. In the liner notes Yoshihide requests that you listen to the CD in shuffle mode, or alternatively that you listen to several copies of the record at the same time, which sounds like a clever ploy to sell more records. He also suggests that you smear grease on the disc, but I didn't do this.

I only have one copy of Sampling Virus, so I used a computer to shuffle the tracks. Then I layered them four times, thus:

Whilst that sweet sound assaults your ears contemplate all the music you might be listening to instead. Sampling Virus suffers from a technical problem whereby compact disc players can't seek instantly, so no matter how it's sequenced it always sounds like a series of disjointed sound snippets. A few years later Autechre, working under the name Gescom, released Minidisc, a minidisc that exploited the format's gapless playback. I haven't heard it. The idea sounds a bit naff nowadays. It's probably the kind of thing that was envisaged by the man who devised the CD specification way back in the late 1970s.

Extreme Records still exists. It has nothing to do with Hungary's Arrow Cross Party, despite having a similar logo.

Sampling Virus was released a few months before Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell II and was largely overshadowed by that record. I remember hearing Meat Loaf a lot more on the radio. As a consequence it didn't chart. Is it glitch music? I'm not sure. Some of the lengthier tracks have a glitchy sound, but I think they were edited manually with a sampler. The idea of randomly ordering fragments of music isn't really glitch music, it's chance music, which is something else.

I've always thought of glitch as a musical form that exploits the technical errors of musical equipment, as in Oval's Systemisch (1994), which uses CD-skipping sounds. Sampling Virus is essentially Japanese noise music with a chance element.

Will I ever listen to it a second time? Unlikely, but there are few people on this planet who can truthfully say that they have listened to Sampling Virus all the way through, and I am one of them. Last year I wrote about Touch Records' Ringtones, a collection of audio snippets intended for use as mobile phone ringtones - the album was released about eighteen months before audio ringtones took off, and it's interesting now for being slightly ahead of the curve. Ringtones has 99 tracks, and although it was never intended to be played in shuffle mode, or even listened to as an album, it works equally well as an accidental sequel to Sampling Virus. Just for fun I decided to apply the same treatment to Ringtones that I applied to Sampling Virus up the page:

Has there ever been a genre more ripe for commercial discovery than Japanese noise music? "Japanoise", they call it. Katy Perry's most recent album, Witness, has been relatively unsuccessful, but she has a knack of bouncing back from adversity with a new sound. What better seam to mine than Japanoise? Few genres encapsulate modern life more perfectly than experimental noise music, and where Katy Perry leads, we will follow. Glitch music itself almost threatened to break into the mainstream a few years ago, and although the likes of Merzbow and KK Null are not mainstream figures they could probably sell out the Royal Festival Hall, so Katy Perry should have no difficulty bringing Japanese noise to the world's arenas. She has something that Merzbow doesn't have - attractive breasts. Breasts open doors.

If you think about it, choral music is a kind of glitch music. The vocal texture of a choir comes from the layering of different voices; if all the voices in a choir were identical, the result would sound like a very loud soloist. Even highly trained vocalists can't produce pure tones, because the human animal is much less precise and repeatable than a machine. We don't mean to be different, we just are.