A concept can only ever be as good as its execution. Time and time again I’ve been disappointed with incredible conceptual frameworks that fall way off the mark with an execution that merits the question, why? Why go through all that cerebral effort only to acquiesce to mediocrity at the compositional and performance stages of your work? It was with this trepidation that I went into James Hoff’s latest outing for PAN, Blaster. The write-up looked good, with an investigation into computer viruses and their “ability to self distribute through (and ultimately disrupt) networks of communication”. It was more than enough to pique my curiosity, but I must admit a sense of scepticism enveloped me as what could only be described as a sanctimonious noise greeted me on the opening and title track. I thought; here we go, a noise record with no real musical depth other than the essay that preceded it. This was however a mistake on my part and as the noise subsided into a defined a regular rhythmic anomaly in the form of a glitching 808 beat, the penny dropped and clarity prevailed as the objective of Mr. Hoff’s concept was realised effectively through the subsequent tracks, contained within the rest of the album.
Laconic rhythms are interjected with the chaotic results of the blaster virus and yield remarkable constructions as the composer re-imagines them for an unsuspecting audience. Yes, it’s still abrasive, but in the same way a punk track would be and it’s crafted from the same less-is-more attitude that solidified that genre. At times the composer’s influence is obvious like the sequential bass-line that calls in Asterbl, while during other times it can also call into question the whole composer-instrument dynamic in our digital age. On Rblaste for instance there is a definite song structure hiding within the cloaks of a glitch experiment, and if you concentrate hard enough the ghostly residue of the original loop becomes apparent just before the virus consumes it again and spits out a newly mutated form. It immediately begged comparisons to Mr. Ozio and especially for its superficial executions that don’t require an in-depth investigation of the sounds themselves – something that a comparison to Aphex Twin might induce. It makes it a fairly innocent amalgamation of parasitic charm and the minimalist approach in which Hoff approaches the compositions is exactly the reason for its allure. In essence this is the most concrete work of computer music that’s ever come to be. The composer’s role is often morphed from instrument to composer as the virus distributes itself through the music as predicted by the concept. The human control thus merely acts as an unexacting prohibition of control. Perhaps it speaks of the way that various governments try to control its people in a digital age, but this is just mere speculation and the press release doesn’t extrapolate on the societal commentary that Blaster might wish to proliferate.
What is clear is Blaster’s intentions with music, and I found a particular humour in the Scratch part of the album. A collection of the infected samples used throughout the album in the form of a scratch disc. Its existence goes on to distribute the virus through, what I hope to be many other DJ sets, infecting stoic ideas of music as it mutates through popular channels to reach performances and ears everywhere. Although the realistic application of this effect is somewhat questionable, it still makes for a novel idea. I hope to see many a DJ utilizing this unforgiving and random tool in their sets, and perpetuate the infection. (Maybe this could offer an alternative to the abhorring ice-bucket challenge)
The concept appears to work on innumerable levels and they come across effortlessly through this work. I admire the way Hoff realised these ideas into an auditory format, and thus the execution never fails the conceptual framework on which it is based. It’s nothing like James Hoff’s previous LP on PAN in terms of composition. On Blaster the ideas stem from the dance floor even if that situation will not nurture their mutations much further than their inception – I don’t see them necessarily working on a dance floor. For that reason they could very easily be approached ignoring the ideas behind Blaster completely, making it enjoyable even for the nonpartisan listener. It’s the invested listener however, that will reap the rewards of this LP and it’s through him/her that the Blaster virus will continue to infect and mutate other musical hosts.