on david edren’s electronic gamelan music via social harmony

David Edren – Electronic Gamelan Music (2017)

Despite the fact that David Edren appeared within the landscape of experimental electronic music roughly twenty years ago, my relationship with his work is relatively recent – the foundations of which, like many love affairs before it, drew upon a standing affection for the label on which it is housed. I reviewed Edren’s Spoel, issued by Black Sweat under his moniker DSR Lines, earlier this year – an album which has offered endless joy and revelation through the months since, becoming one of my favorite LPs of the year. When I spotted the announcement of his latest release – a cassette issued by the Ghent based imprint Social Harmony, I dropped what I was doing and gave it a spin. As it unfolded, my jaw joined those previous tasks on the floor.

Edren, who lives in Antwerp, began issuing a slow trickle of work during the late 90’s – mostly solo efforts under the name DSR Lines, with an occasional alternate or collaboration thrown in the mix. He has largely focused on electronic synthesis, a field which has become increasingly saturated over those same years. While this has created a developmentally rich and diverse context to work within, it also presents a number of rarely acknowledged challenges. The instrument activates an infinite number of possibilities for the user – thus its appeal, but it also can have a dangerous leveling effect. Because so many artists have been drawn to roughly the same tool, which defaults toward a fairly universal working methodology and pallet of tone, as well as being compositionally assertive in ways that other instruments aren’t –  offering seemingly exciting resolves very quickly, the results can become easily homogeneous. There’s a lot synthesizer music which has become trapped within the organic seductions of the instrument, lacks ambition, and sounds more or less the same. Within this context, Edren has managed to stay ahead, push, and sculpt of body of work which stands apart as singular and unique.

What initially struck me about Edren’s work was its relationship to historic spirit of early electronic music – presenting an optimistic, almost utopian image in sound, without feeling referential or nostalgic. Like those before him, he sculpts an image of a better future – revised, pushing forward, and speeding up the clock. Electronic Gamelan Music is saturated with this spirit, stepping past expected signifiers, and offering an experience within the avant-garde which is a joy to the ear.

The cassette, which is comprised of six distinct works, is a fascinating hybrid – splicing references to the ancient tradition of gamelan music from Java and Bali, with the forward thinking ideas of synthesis, processing, and Minimalism. It reminds the ear to look beyond the superficial and aesthetic, toward what’s happening, and what music actually is – a series of conversations and connections, bending culture and time.

While Edren didn’t set out duplicate the music of another culture, its remarkable how much the result can trick the ear.  Heard blind, most would begin with the presumption that Electronic Gamelan Music was a strange recording from Java or Bali. It’s a testament to how much the signifiers and associations of certain instruments resonate in our ears. There’s no way to get over the seductiveness of the gamelan tones – their clipped resonances and shimmering overtones, but, in this case, it’s also important to look beyond them. Edren’s work sound like something they are not. They are Trojan horses –  restrained Minimalist works of stunning beauty, filled with harmonic and structural surprise. Each work is the product of a process within which all parts were programmed the on sequencers, before being processed in real it time during the recording process – effecting and altering the timing and and overall rhythmic structure. The result is an astoundingly beautiful tapestry of rhythm and tone – as complex and curious, as it elegant and engrossing.

While it’s been a pretty overwhelming year for records – reissues and contemporary alike, Electronic Gamelan Music knocked the wind out of me, rapidly becoming one of my absolute favorite releases of the year. It’s a joy to listen to, while imbued with a shocking array of rich and complex ideas. I’ve gone back to it again and again, and doubt that process will end anytime soon. The edition of 100 has sold out fast, so, unless the label produces another run, (which they definitely should) it might take a little effort to track down. I highly recommend doing just that. Keep your eye on the Social Harmony page, and check it out below. Hats off the Edren once again.

-Bradford Bailey

David Edren – Electronic Gamelan Music (2017)













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