It is time to stop calling sequenced, sampled and programmed music “futuristic” or even “forward-looking.” You can take off your visor helmet now. Electronic production has been status quo for over 25 years, which is about 25 lifetimes in digital chronology. The future keeps coming and going, swallowed in yesterday’s samples and regurgitated in tomorrow’s mashups. Everyone knows that robots have feelings (especially silent movie robots on heroin). Electro- has replicated its silicon tendrils through everything that we once considered inviolably organic: laptop folk, worldtronica, Switched-on Bach. It’s not transgressive or radical anymore, except in its rhetoric. It can be good and it can be bad, revelatory or utterly half-assed (“Hey everybody, watch me press Play!”). But it is no longer “forward-looking,” agreed? The past, actually, is more often the quarry of electronic technology than the future – but only 100 years of it or so.
Still, a futuristic mythology seems to be inscribed in the “digital DNA” of almost all music that uses tempo-synched delay and grid-based quantization, and I suppose that with the right drugs and a light show, it will always be pretty exciting. For a rattlingly brilliant discussion of the myths of technological progress and what happened to our jetpacks and moon chateaus, see David Graeber’s essay “Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit,” and thank me later. That settled, please now direct your attention to the wonderful, inspired music of drummer/electro-composer Mark Guiliani: music that has nothing to do with the future.
Marketing rhetoric would place Guiliani on the cutting edge of “jazztronica,” because “electrazz” is a bad sounding word. In truth, he is one among many jazz-schooled beat producers in the tradition of Bill Laswell and the New York avant-groove scene of the ’90s, but one with an uncommonly lithe and subtle command of rhythm and groove counterpoint. On the two records released under his own name and with Mehlinai, his electro duo with Brad Mehldau, Guiliani is the pulse behind some of the most “human,” flexy and nuanced beatmaking that you will ever hear. His latest effort, My Life Starts Here, isn’t jazz at all, much less its future. But it sure is good rhythm from a very real drummer.
Long ago I stopped keeping track of the proliferative categories and subcategories of electronic music. Perhaps My Life Starts Here is “Downstep Miami Dry Chill,” or “Intelligent Jungle Hard Trip,” or some other class that permits an occasional spoken-word spiel. All I know is that this dude is a rare and remarkable groove architect. Mark Guiliani, who herds his various projects under the Beat Music Production umbrella, performs at the Falcon in Marlboro on Saturday, December 13. The New York duo Skeye opens at 7 p.m.
Live performance is always a big question mark with hybrid electro music such as this. How much of it is performed off the grid and with an actual risk of failure? How much is just the glorified pressing of Play, with some provision for mixing spontaneity? And how much is that soulful fusion of man and machine that the Korg and Ableton product brochures have promised for so many years now?
Beat Music with Mark Guiliani, Saturday, December 13, 7 p.m., by donation, Falcon, 1348 Route 9W, Marlboro; www.liveatthefalcon.com.