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Terre Thaemlitz: Soulnessless
Comatonse Datastick
- Clive Bell

In The Wire (UK), Issue 340, June 2012.


Brace yourselves: here comes the World's Longest Album In History. Well over 31 hours of audio, plus a book's worth of writings about it, all on a data stick. Soulnessless - "an attempted deconstruction of soul music", explains Terre Thaemlitz' press release - has five cantos, of which the fifth is a 31 hour piano solo titled "Meditation On Wage Labor And The Death Of The Album". Cantos one to four are a vast ocean of singing nuns, Catholic services laid over electronic music, and Thaemlitz' other obsesseions, including ghosts and gender. There are six bonus tracks, several lengthy remixes, a couple of 50 page essays busting with footnotes, photo albums and annotations... and I haven't even started on the video material.

Of course, the unmanageable sprawl of the material is the point. As Thaemlitz pointed out in his Collateral Damage essay (The Wire 336), a 30 hour album "is certainly an asinine respones to an online audio industry that already demands so much free labor in the form of bonus material and promotional mixes". The scale fo the project is a stress test for the industry's technical standards - the album purports to be the maximum length an MP3 can take - plus a critical engagement with its demands. Thaemlitz derives considerable humour from subjecting all musical creation to the reduction of materialist economic anaysis. As he writes: "Perhaps with the exception of religious clergy, never has a labor force deployed so much ideology as audio producers to conceal from ourselves and others the fact that it's just a job". His lapsed-Catholic anti-religious campaigning, and his fierce focus on social and material issues, recall Komar And Melamid's anally detailed process of professionally polling the public to create "The Most Wanted Song" (1997).

"Canto V" itself is a dreamily repetitive series of chords on a Fazioli grand piano in York University - the piano's beautiful sustain, combined with Thaemlitz' cheerfully approximate technique, results in a hypnotic and very human piece. Its colossal length aligns it with Cage's famous all-night take on Satie's Vexations, or indeed with contemporary field recordists, some of whom are now releasing 24 hour environmental recordings. If Thaemlitz can seem self-obsessed or manically conceptual, humour is never far away in this piece, and "Canto V" reappears in witty disco remix form in the hands of DJ Sprinkles - a positively microscopic 13 minutes.