Release Date: Feb 19, 2016
Record label: Planet Mu
Genre(s): Electronic, Techno, Pop/Rock, Experimental Techno, IDM, Breakcore
For an artist whose recordings typically consist of intensely edited, sample-heavy sonic constructions, the "traditional" way to go about making music is to spend countless hours programming an overwhelming modular synthesizer system that takes up an entire room. Aaron Funk has explored analog synthesizer music before, but he usually saves this type of work for his Last Step moniker, which veers toward acid techno rather than the frenetic breakcore of his more well-known guise, Venetian Snares. On Traditional Synthesizer Music, he steps away from the crushing breakbeats, shocking samples, and monstrous vocals of his previous VSnares releases, but his penchant for complex time signatures remains as strong as ever.
Winnipeg's Aaron Funk has an obvious darkness in him — the breakcore legend has a child-killing-themed album called Doll Doll Doll — yet he has as much of an adventurous absurdist streak, too. While retaining his sense of menace throughout Traditional Synthesizer Music, his umpteenth album as Venetian Snares, he also sounds positively refreshed and reinvigorated. Granted, the title of "Everything About You Is Special" may be sarcastic, depending on what you read into it, but between that track, "She Married a Chess Computer in the End" and "Magnificent Stumble v2," it sounds like Funk is honestly having fun jamming these tunes out.
Review Summary: Funk see, Funk do.Keeping in mind Aaron Funk’s penchant for ironic, often nonsensical album titles, I went into Traditional Synthesizer Music expecting the opposite of its namesake: machines at the mercy of their operator, percussion that breaks the synaptic connections of the brain, an aural palette that pushes the limitations of sound design, etc. Suffice to say, this album’s comparative restraint came as more of a shock than material of said description could have ever hoped to be. While Funk’s tongue remains firmly planted into his cheek given that this album isn’t “traditional” in the strictest meaning of the word, it’s still quite familiar, bringing to mind the likes of Aphex Twin’s Richard D.
As with many Venetian Snares enthusiasts, my view of Funk’s discography is one of frustrating as much as appreciation. For every great Venetian Snares record there is another that seems meandering and directionless. Last year’s long-awaited My Love is a Bulldozer sadly fitted into the latter category. On first listen it was exciting, but the fact that I never made it as far as a fourth listen should indicate pretty clearly that the charm wore off.
The idea that Venetian Snares might release anything you could describe as "traditional" boggles the mind a bit, but like much in the Snares catalogue, the title of his new record gleams like a trap for the unwary. Since he introduced himself in the early '00s with a brace of rapid-fire records on Planet Mu, Aaron Funk has carved a singular path. He once claimed to have recorded his early works while coming down from crack cocaine; he has sampled Bartók, Billie Holiday, and Elgar (all on his outstanding 2005 LP Rossz Csillag Alatt Született), and once made an entire record about his cats titled, in a rare straightforward gesture, Songs About My Cats.
Last year was big for modular synthesizers. In January, Moog announced that they would bring back three of their large-format machines. Experienced wire juggler Blawan kickstarted his TERNESC label with two modular-made EPs, and even artists from outside the dance music sphere—namely Allesandro Cortini, Martin Gore and Sam Prekop of The Sea And Cake—released synth albums.
Here we go, into the world of modular synths, grasping for multi-colored cords, wandering into sound, entering a room with a swipe of a card, in a basement with a glass of wine offering vertical stars, or in a basement with green dragons, a.k.a. a basement with security cameras, wherein I will meet thee, at thy throne of electronic gadgets and therefore a sound, therefore only a small sound duplicated in time, wherein from the mightiest of machines comes a frequency, in its micro-galactic sublimity. Modular synth, semiotically, as in a symbol of mathematic sovereignty over the world.
When it's done badly, hauntology goes the way of steampunk – a route-map of nostalgic ephemera taken from Open University broadcasts, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Sesame Street, public information films, Ladybird books and such. It's easy to create something faintly creepy when all the signposts are there. Throw in an old documentary about trains and some slowed-down kids' voices, and you're halfway to signing up for the annual convention.