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Couture Cosmetique / G.R.R.L.
Mille Plateaux 1998
- Sean Cooper

In Urban Sounds, December 1997.


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[Thaemlitz - Couture Cosmetique & G.R.R.L.] [Music Styles]

Two recent recordings from one of the premier American ambient composers. For those unfamiliar with his work, New York-based Terre Thaemlitz typically dwells in the darker, more unsettling regions of ambient and electro-acoustic experimentalism, pairing minimal electronics with blustery, vaguely disturbing crescendos of disembodied (but also strangely familiar) sound and noise. Probably the only openly gay ambient artist you could name (Matmos aren't really ambient though, are they?), Thaemlitz artfully weaves themes of political and socio-cultural import through his work, leaning toward elements of dissonance, textural dischord, and thematic discontinuity all the more effective for their frugal deployment.

Couture Cosmetique, for its part, takes this last notion in some pretty interesting directions, drawing its impetus from certain residual properties of the very process of sound synthesis itself (filter analysis and granular synthesis, most notably) in order to, in the composer's own words, "bring into focus those sounds which currently exist in a repressed state at the periphery of popular contemporary music production...[T]o intimate new functionalities which remain excluded or omitted from popular development." In this respect, Couture Cosmetique is linked in its conceptual genesis with the work of composers such as John Cage and Luciano Berio; however, unlike those composers (regardless of their historical and aesthetic import), he also manages to achieve his compositional goals in an engaging, entirely musical fashion, a fact which very much adds to the significance of his work.

G.R.R.L. is another matter altogether. Conceived as a whirlwind, out of more than a decade of dance music past, this is for the most part completely unlike anything Thaemlitz has released before. The track listing is presented as a loose flow-chart connecting titles to headings such as "Deep House," "Abstract Drum & Bass," "Minimal Techno," and "'80s Chicago," with each pertinent track doing its best to offer itself as an example. In some instances ("Princess," "Turtleneck," "China Doll"), that's a good thing, with Thaemlitz deviating from overly genrefied forms in favor of bizarre hybrids of reference and influence (think Atom Heart or some of the Dot or Spymania artists). But most of this album doesn't stray very far from a rather rigorous (and in many cases perplexing) commitment to convention. Undoubtedly, something more than the simple aping of styles is happening here (particularly given Thaemlitz' interest in the subversion of entrenched notions of subjectivity and expression). But unless, unlike me, you have some stake in the more straightforward varieties of dance music past that constitute the substance of what I can only assume is Thaemlitz' negative dialectics of the discotheque, you probably won't care much, either. Rating: 7 and 5, respectively.
[sean cooper]


[Couture Cosmetique cover]

[G.R.R.L. cover]