terre thaemlitz writings

Track Annotations
- Terre Thaemlitz

2000 (comatonse.com). This page contains information on individual tracks. For information on album concepts, please select a title from the discography or the writings section. All information contained on this page dates from 1993-1995 (or thereabouts), and was casually pieced together for the old website, so it gets a bit sloppy.


About Track Annotations

Detailed annotations were a large part of my original vision for packaging and distributing my tracks. When talking about music, and particularly the Contemporary Ambient movement, it seems everyone is obsessed with essentialist abstractions such as "universalism," "transcendence," "social communion," "spiritual enlightenment" and other vagaries which attempt to erase the social contexts of both producers and listeners. The result is that all music is reduced to the mastrubatory level of subjective introspection. I felt it was important to present an alternative to these pervasive views - to develop anti-spiritual, materialist discourse for analyzing and interpreting Contemporary Ambient and electronic music. Because my productions thematically tended to focus on individual tracks, rather than a single-themed project consisting of many tracks, I wanted to provide separate annotations for each track I produced; however, it soon became apparent that this would result in very lengthy and bulky liner notes, and I was not interested in being a writer (in particular, dealing with the acrobatics of post-modern critical discourse). In addition, the fact that I knew of not one other person producing or listening to Contemporary Ambient music who was not invested in essentialism didn't help any, either. (Hey, this was during my activist-burnout phase, and my sense of urgency wasn't what it used to be. ;-) By the time I put together the first Comatonse release, Comatonse.000, I had decided to simply use short, narrative free verse which I felt could function for listeners with either materialist or essentialist outlooks (see "Raw Through A Straw" and "Tranquilizer" below).

Recently I have noticed that after speaking with people about the conceptual processes behind the production of my tracks, most tell me they would be interested in more expansive annotations outlining the issues I was focusing on at the time of production. I thought the WWW would be a good place to put these texts, hoping that the web's state of continual development and change will allow them to elude some of the didacticism and absolutism conveyed by hard-published text. Because many of the tracks discussed are now several years old, these annotations will undoubtedly contain a substantial amount of reconstruction and distortion of what I was originally thinking about.

Some of these annotations are well composed, others are rambles or excerpts from interviews. I do not expect anyone to be able to conclude all that I am writing simply by hearing a track and reading it's title, but generally all of my tracks have elements that function as clues to my original focus. I hope these annotations will help people in formulating their own mental annotations when listening to my tracks in the future.


Fat Chair

Track appears on the album: Tranquilizer, (US: Instinct, 1994). Track also appears on the untitled ltd. edition ambient double vinyl pack, (US: Instinct, 1994). Although I was shy to say it explicitly at the time for fear of alienating friends, this track was a direct reaction against what I considered to be the "audio imperialism" of New York's Illbient scene.

One day I picked up a "year in review" type news record from the late 60's. It featured Walter Kronkite espousing the miracles of the modern world, man on the moon, etc. Mixed in with these passages was a journalist recording from the Biafran revolution in which a civilian/rebel is murdered by the establishment regime, in the presence of the two journalists who half-assedly attempt to secure the civilian's safety, coming across more as an intrusion than anything else. Kronkite introduces the scenario with a glib comment about how not all promises are kept like an American would keep one, and he follows it with more feel-good tidbits. The imperialist dynamics of representation were appalling. I imagined some White, middle class average Joe sitting down in his nice fat chair to have an enjoyable listen to the record, and how the Biafran civilian's murder became trivialized through it's decontextualization on the record. Then I began relating this process of decontextualization to the use of "ethnic" instrumentation and singing (generally Middle Eastern and Asian) in Contemporary Ambient music. In particular, I thought about the manner in which the concept of music as "universal" conceals the socio-political context within which the original recordings were produced, replacing it with a fetishistic Western concept of Orientalism. And again, here was this image of some White, middle class average Joe sitting down in his nice fat chair to have an enjoyable listen to a record.

"Fat Chair", then, was a comment both on the original journalist recording and the use of ethno-fuck in Contemporary Ambient. I tried to create what would initially come across as a peaceful track, but to continually disrupt its quietude with random low frequency hits, annoyingly hidden buzzes, and eventually allowing the recording of the Biafran civilian's murder to come to the surface, hopefully rupturing any sense of escapism the listener might be experiencing.

Random Attractor / A Random Tractor

Tracks appear on the compilation: Ambient Systems II, (US: Instinct, 1996).

"Random Attractor" and "A Random Tractor" are previously unreleased tracks completed by 9/95, shortly after my return from the '95 International Computer Music Conference [ICMC]. Like most of the tracks on my "Soil" cd, both tracks present a mix of computer synthesis and MIDI gear.

As the title infers, "Random Attractor" is an amalgamation of new filtering techniques I had picked up at ICMC. It also references a peculiar point in my life where I seemed to be a random attractor of unlikely events, including a disturbing six week period in which I was shat upon by birds at least once a week. (True!)

"A Random Tractor" is a response to the "Ethno-Ambient" movement, in which I find myself categorized many times despite my aversion to its culturally imperialist pretenses. Coming from Missouri, I thought it would be fun to create an "Ozark-Ambient" track. I began playing with samples of my mother's hammer dulcimer and realized that they could be reprocessed to sound like wood percussive and wind instruments typical of much "Ethno-Ambient" music. I then combined these sounds with the "foreign tongue" of a mangled message from my answering machine. The resulting "tribal" sounds remind us that the contents we project onto sounds are our own, and do not necessarily reflect the contexts of the original sound sources.

Raw Through a Straw

Track appears on the 12": Comatonse.000, (US: Comatonse Recordings, 1993). Track also appears on the album: Tranquilizer, (US: Instinct, 1994).

From the original liner notes to Comatonse.000:

    He is troubled by his oddly displaced excitement
    in witnessing the birth of a world
    where the only cum safe for his ingestion is his own

Between the track's title, structure and these liner notes, it should be obvious that the track is intended as a sort of audio blow-job. And of course in the age of HIV, whenever we think about blow-jobs we think about what? Debates around the safety of consumption! Very good! ;-)

When producing this track I was thinking about the crisis among HIV/AIDS activists, particularly us younger ones from the late 80's, who tended to see ourselves as the transitional group. From our vantage point there were the "older activists" who had lived in a world without safer sex practices for decades, and this idea of a future society in which everyone would practice safer sex (yeah, right!), and here we were in the middle - most of us having had a few unsafe sexual experiences in the past, but doing our best to learn how to enjoy safer sex practices as much as or more than unsafe sex.

There was something disturbingly exciting about seeing oneself as part of such a monumental cultural transition. Our sense of urgency was imbued with this rather morbid romanticization of circumstance. Of course the reality of the impact of safer sex information will most likely not result in such a dramatic rupture with the past, but I and many others found it necessary to operate in relation to this fiction from time to time in order to maintain our energy levels.

I sometimes wonder if it didn't burn me out sooner.


Track appears on the 12": Comatonse.000, (US: Comatonse Recordings, 1993). Track also appears on the compilation: Plug In + Turn On x.2, (US: Instinct, 1994).

From the original liner notes to Comatonse.000:

    "Emerging from the couds a sixth time
    The moon floods the lilac fields with icy blue light"


    Suddenly finding herself laying with her neck on the damp soil
    peering at the stars through a web of violet thistles
    she can't help feeling betrayed by the specificity and banality of the liner notes

The title "Tranquilizer" was chosen to function as both passive (tranquillity) and aggressive (tranquilizer injections as a means for others to assume control over your body). While I wanted to include the track on my first-ever release Comatonse.000, I was concerned with certain elements of its instrumentation being too "New Agey" and lending themselves to transcendental interpretations. Since I am a die-hard materialist, I see such interpretations as containing an element of aggression.

Conversely, while the liner notes are an opportunity for me to explicate my intentions and fend off transcendental interpretations, they also perform a reciprocal act of violence upon listeners' interpretive processes. In order to reflect this contradiction inherent to communicative processes, the first part of the annotation:

    "Emerging from the couds a sixth time
    The moon floods the lilac fields with icy blue light"

represents conventionally escapist liner notes generally associated with Contemporary Ambient and New Age. Upon reading the liner notes, the listener (a fierce materialist sister! :-) finds that her interpretation of the track must be repositioned in relation to the transcendental implications of the words she did not wish to read, words which do not reflect her social outlook. In her mind, she is thrown into a damp field, pinned down to the soil by the universalist drivel (i.e., reflective of dominant social outlook, hence patriarchal in nature, hence masculine - so if you really overprocess the imagery it could be interpreted as a heterosexual assault scene). Her mind is flooded with images which are visually similar to but metaphorically the opposite of those she read. The lilacs are replaced by thorny violet thistles, and she can find no place for self-representation within the context outlined by the liner notes before her.


Track appears on the album: Soil, (US: Instinct, 1995).

From an interview by Grant Horne:

    Q: Tell me about "Trucker." It's my favorite composition of yours to date. When I listen to it, I find myself in the driver's seat of a big rig, travelling across the highways of Texas at night. Do you recall the origins of the track?
    A: "Trucker." is about continual social transition - about experiencing critical feelings of disassociation from various political discourses, while identifying that experience in itself as supporting a dominant cultural strategy for complacency. So there is no idle a-political passivity - we are continually mediating ourselves in relation to ideologies and discourses, and the result is perpetual transience. I associate this feeling of being "between destinations" with midwestern highways - I used to go on road trips between Missouri and Minnesota by myself, driving 12 to 14 hours straight, and I remember feeling very at place when technically nowhere. So the "Trucker." becomes the romanticized political transient, and falling asleep at the wheel is the threat of political idolatry. Her radio picks up remnants of discourse which must be infused with content or discarded. To engage listeners in this process, a repeating voice is muffled just beyond literacy so that they must come up with their own idea of what is being said. The actual phrase being repeated, by the way, is "No heaven," which - aside from being a little anti-spiritual dig in a very meditative track - alludes to the idea that socially there is no final resting place.

Drum Kompluter: E.P.L. (Femme Machine) Remix

Track appears on the compilation: Ambient Intermix, (US: Instinct, 1995).

From the liner notes to the compilation Ambient Intermix, (US: Instinct Ambient, 1995):

    Both in name and stylistically, Drum Komputer are derivative of and a homage to Kraftwerk. I requested to remix "E.P.L." because of my interest in processes of engendering technology [which I identify as a subtext to Kraftwerk and much electronic music]. The male robotic voice in the original version reflects the paradigm of Man/Machine as it has been historically developed through Western patriarchal ideologies of industrialization and mechanization.
    Unable to transcend this history, substituting the male voice with a female voice does result in an inversion of this paradigm, nor does it evoke its dichotic counterpart Woman/Nature. Rather, the resulting technology is conventionally feminine: provider of maternal wisdom [Star Trek computer], or concubine [sexbot].
    Emerging from this contextual culdesac, the Femme Machine embodies the contradiction between this heterosexualization of technology, and the homoerotic overtones implicit within Man's infatuation with Machines as an extension of Himself.

Adham Shaikh: Liquid Evolution (Sinking Canoe) Remix

Track appears on the compilation: Ambient Intermix, (US: Instinct, 1995).

From the liner notes to the compilation Ambient Intermix, (US: Instinct Ambient, 1995):

    A sunken body laying among the rocks, gazing upward through the waves of moss, anticipating the arrival of a sinking vessel and its promise of navigation.

I was interested in remixing Adham's track based on it's sonic beauty [kinda corny, but true]. Thematically, however, Adham and I have quite different approaches to music. Adham tends to describe music as a humanist signifier - universal and bonding between cultures. I perceive music as localized and symptomatic of specific cultural outlooks and practices.

The vocal samples Adham used in "Liquid Evolution" talk about social communion and all of humanity merging - communicating "soul to soul." According to his title, this is a fluid process, and we are adrift amid these social waters which grow and evolve to interconnect us all.

I would assert that the manner in which we perceive the interconnectedness of "humanity" is culturally specific, and that [keeping with Adham's liquid imagery] our navigating cross-cultural waters is reliant upon self-referential philosophical vessels which mediate and condition our perception of others. I find the universalist approach toward social unification quite restrictive and prohibitive of recognizing cultural difference, so I chose the canoe as a metaphor for this approach based on its precarious balance if one attempts to move around in it.

The listener, although immersed in global cross-cultural waters, lays sunken among the rocks - localized. The damaged canoe - universalist philosophy - cannot grant the individual the ability to move beyond her/his localized perceptions. Still, the sunken body awaits its arrival. And of course, although it is relatively simple to capsize a canoe, it is difficult to actually sink one, so there's quite a long wait ahead. To put it less tactfully, anyone holding on to universalist ideology is already dead in the water. ;-)

Sonically, in addition to making Adham's track sound like it is trapped in under water currents, the vast majority of elements are played backwards to reflect this reverse approach in thematics.