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Terre Thaemlitz - Oh, No! It's Rubato
Mille Plateaux
- John Gibson

In Grooves Magazine, 2002.


Oh, no indeed. Thaemlitz' Rubato series of records deviates from his electro-acoustic/digital work, although it operates along similar themes of the transmutation of identity. Rather than subject source material to politicized digital editing, these releases see Thaemlitz performing piano-lite "re-interpretations" of late 1970s electric and New Wave acts. (Kraftwerk and Gary Numan have already been subjects of this enterprise.) For the latest installment, Thaemlitz tackles the catalog of New Wave quasi-intellectual pranksters Devo, whose own attempts to expose the "de-evolution" of 1970s America proved correct when the sarcastically low-brow likes of "Whip It" and "Mongoloid" turned into frat-party faves interpreted at face value. Thaemlitz provides an exhaustingly academic sleeve essay on why this should be an appropriate subject for his own particular take on these classic songs, but it is his most dense writing yet, to the point where you switch off.

Much of the material is only vaguely recognisable. "Whip It" contains something approximating to the original chorus, although with a different emphasis; "Mongoloid" also contains identifiable traces of its parent. "Jocko Homo," though, may as well be an entirely different song, peopled as it is by deliberately tasteful, emotionally empty cascades of very lite notes indeed. Needless to say, any exhilaration contained in the originals is entirely (and purposefully) flattened, replaced by a clinical, emotionless Windham Hill ambience. Plink-plonk. Next track. Plink-plonk. Et cetera.

Intellectually, the exercise holds some water, but it isn't a great deal of fun to hear. Of course, the expectation of enjoyment from a commercially released record is one of the practices Thaemlitz aims to expose as a dubious, market-driven form of narrative (as he goes to enormous pains to point out on just about every record he has ever released). He is probably correct about this, but it simply negates the need to purchase the damn thing. I fail to see how Oh, No! It's Rubato offers any substantial exit from this impasse, other than to make utterly empty records as an end in itself. To my mind, the whole Rubato exercise feels like a retreat from the questions Thaemlitz poses. Not an overwhelming success.