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The Field - Looping State of Mind

The Field

Looping State of Mind


Minimalism is just as much science as it is art. It is about addition and subtraction, gradients and slopes, time and decibels. Artistic elements enter when the musician makes decisions like how steep to make that slope, just how much to crank the decibels and what to add or subtract.

Swedish minimalist techno artist Alex Willner, a.k.a. the Field, is equal parts scientist and musician. Decibels and seconds are his paintbrush and canvas, and his repetitive micro-loops are the paint with which he colors mostly monochromatic abstractions on his latest album, Looping State of Mind, the followup to 2009’s Yesterday and Today. Though these ideas of micro-loops, repetition, gradient calculations and minimalism might suggest a heavily robotic or numbed sound, Looping States of Mind is surprisingly human, something that Willner seems to want to make clear immediately with his intro “Is This Power,” which comes together almost awkwardly—an unusual happenstance for such typically gridded electronic music.

Although his music perfectly fits (or itself defines) the definition of ambient techno—tightly repetitive with indistinguishable, layered sound sources—Willner seems to borrow more from Steve Reich and Terry Riley than he does from Derrick May or Juan Atkins with his split-second motifs and soaring melodies intertwined with live basslines and infinitely layered metallic cymbal clicks on tracks like “Burned Out.” “Arpreggiated Love,” an 11-minute long, deceptively simple ambient techno piece, would boarder on the edge of existence itself if it weren’t for the less than pillowy bass drum and downbeat refrain every four measures. Joined by a pulsating synth line later on, the track perpetually gains energy, until almost exactly half way through when Willner takes it down to just a skipping beat and vocal line as the song seems to unravel in his hands, loops coming undone for mere seconds before snapping back together like a demolition in reverse.

Though Willner probably recorded some or most of this album in his bedroom, this is more than just a bedroom producer’s ambient noodlings. There are moments in Looping that you will get lost in—like the highly sentimental, post-rock influenced track “Then It’s White” and the melodically devoid closing track “Sweet Slow Baby,” but there are also moments, as in most electronic music, that affect the body physically. The break down of “It’s Up There,” the second track on the hour-long album—might cause some to throw their arms up in the air and dance like there is no yesterday or tomorrow, but this is not a dance record. Your favorite DJ won’t be playing these tracks in the club because this is music intended for personal use—four out of seven tracks are nine minutes long or longer, so to hear just a two minute snippet would be like watching Apocalypse Now on an iPhone. The irony here is that Looping simultaneously appeals to our hyperized culture of instant gratification through the use of endlessly repeating mini loop-bursts, and to that yearning for something complete and satisfying.

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