Instrumental Tourist

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The first of the SSTUDIOS series in which the Software label will be bringing electronic artists together to collaborate, Instrumental Tourist sees the meeting of two of the biggest names in experimental electronica in Canadian Tim Hecker and Brooklyn based Daniel Lopatin. Taking a set of digitally sourced “instruments of the world” as their starting point before twisting and distorting them beyond recognition, Hecker and Lopatin take the listener on a strange, detached and frequently beautiful journey across the globe. Sometimes the source sounds are clearly distinguishable, such as the eastern flutes on “Racist Drone”, or the koto on “Grey Geisha”. These synthesised sounds are then used to create an approximation of “authentic” regional music which is electronically subverted, manipulated, and sonically scrawled over. The questioning of ideas of exoticism and authenticity in music and beyond is a central concept. Although the focus here is on mood over melody, it’s questionable whether this can truly be called ambient music. Brian Eno talked of the genre as having to be “as ignorable as it is interesting” and whilst Instrumental Tourist is certainly interesting, it is frequently hard to ignore. This is not, quiet, polite, ordered music that is happy to sit in the background. Hecker and Lopatin favour improvisation in the studio and, rather than seeking to complement each other’s ideas all of the time, they embrace the moments when their thoughts diverge. The result of this is an album full of unsettling collisions and clashes; warm washes of sound are frequently interjected with harsh contrasts and electronic squall. “Intrusions” is every bit as confrontational as its title would suggest, starting with heavily distorted, staccato blasts of low frequency white noise which assault the listener, before smooth, gliding lines of sound take over. “GRM II” is sparse and unsettling, with seemingly arbitrary, arrhythmic electric piano chords battling with blasts of electronic static. The album is not all ticks and glitches, however and there are many beautifully reflective moments to be found here. On “Vaccination (for Thomas Mann)”,  what may or may not be saxophone drifts over a dense cloud of Gregorian chant like sound creating a quasi-religious atmosphere. “Scenes from a French Zoo”, meanwhile, glistens icily. This is a strange, dense, frequently beautiful, frequently challenging record that bears repeat listening. Though it was apparently recorded over the course of just three days, you get no sense of this from listening, so effectively realised are the ideas. Instrumental Tourist bodes very well for the rest of the SSTUDIOS series.