Henry Plotnick loops, Gately / Tlaotlon smashes and contorts
Following the debut album Fields on Holy Mountain Records, made at the age of 11, California keyboardist Henry Plotnick—now 13 years old—has served up his second album of loop-based instrumentals, entitled Blue Fourteen on the cassette label Blue Tapes.
Plotnick comes from a nurturing artistic environment—his parents are filmmaker Danny Plotnick and musician Alison Faith Levy—and his relatively young age is reflected by his obvious openness, curiosity and willingness to explore, heard in his music.
With accessible digital loop technology, it’s easy for a novice to build up a wall of sound, overlaying strata to make a thick concoction that may seem impressive to anyone unfamiliar with the tools at hand.
However, in the case of Plotnick, what sets him apart is the ability to self-edit that belies his age, where others might not demonstrate restraint.
Serendipity and improv-as-composition can benefit from a creative mind that recognizes what to keep and expand upon and what to reject.
A good example of Plotnick’s method at work is the opening “Qualia,” which gradually builds its layers of echoing notes and pitter-patter patterns and eventually unravels with an organic cleansing, replacing old sounds with new ones in the amalgam. Refreshingly, Plotnick’s triggers aren’t perfectly on the beat, giving a human aspect to the often inhuman world of electronics.
Synth pioneer Raymond Scott’s three-volume Soothing Sounds for Baby comes to mind, as does the approach of the improvisational trio The Necks, which takes a simple motif and gradually stretches its arms to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.
The disorder of “Mechanolatry” is puzzling, with Plotnick going nuts with a sample bank of strings, with glissandos and pizzicato notes, and eventually adding things like frog sounds and blatantly artificial synth tones; this vision is more difficult to understand, apart from the idea of simply making a mess. However, it’s a mess that has an odd friendliness to it, rather than being annoying for the sake of being annoying.
“Wapiti” is an album highlight, first creating rhythms from staggered patterns; while other album tracks are about addition, this one uses subtraction, cutting in and out towards its end, spotlighting breakbeats. Between cheerful chaos and loop-building, Blue Fourteen is the sound of Plotnick figuring out what works.
Katie Gately / Tlaotlon
Split Series #23
In the next-to-last installment of FatCat Records’ split 12-inch vinyl album series, L.A.-based musician Katie Gately is paired with New Zealander (now based in Australia) Jeremy Coughbrough, known under the moniker Tlaotlon, smashing together two stimulating and ecstatic forces of studio electronics.
Gately’s a cappella track “Pipes” from last year made a splash, being a meticulously made piece of mind-warping complexity and extreme studio manipulation, taking her vocals as source material for bizarre and dizzying heights.
On Split Series #23, Gately’s side consists of a single 14-minute track, “Pivot,” that would likely appeal to fans of “Pipes,” with a relentless and compulsive need to micro-tweak and maniacally alter each sound and snippet of vocals, as if to constantly ask, “Is this weird enough?”
Gately harmonizes with herself and pitch-shifts her vocals to disturbingly low or comically high pitches, and the track feels like it’s part of a new generation of electro-acoustic music, which has its own lofty history. The track continually morphs, providing devastating swells and reverberating choral music, as if to suggest some kind of intense ritual.
At other times, a picture of a haunted factory comes to mind, carrying out a complex, mechanized process, with an apocalyptic soundtrack with percussion from a high-tech junkyard. It is never boring and leaves the listener thinking, “What did I just hear?”
Tlaotlon’s work leans more toward the dance crowd, but it’s no less confusing, among the bustle of driving synthetics. Out of the four tracks on Tlaotlon’s side, “Ascensis” is the most dance-oriented number, but it seems almost antagonistic toward dancers, with rhythms fighting for attention despite a four-on-the-floor backbone eventually emerging.
With the patterns being difficult to follow, with uncertainty regarding when to bend, dancers should beware of potential orthopedic mishaps.
The proceedings become literally alarming, with a clown-horn-esque high-pitched vocal sample and a pulsing warning signal. Another highlight is “Odys,” which seemingly depicts a jury-rigged spaceship hurtling through the cosmos, losing parts along the way on its path to self-destruction, offering the vibrant possibilities of a contorted, digital mind.