SMASH THE ROCK
To immerse oneself in the miracle of Daedelus’ music is to experience transformation through a seemingly infinite sense of discovery: Ideas lead to other ideas lead to other ideas leading to where does it all end? And who will we be when we get there?
Daedelus whose name refers more to the mythical in-ventor-sculptor than Joyce’s troubled artist is a young Southern California native (born Alfred Weisberg-Roberts). You could call him a DJ, sort of, though you’d more rightly think of him as a deviser of relevant modern art. Specifically, he is among an eensy-teensy handful of beats-&-samples types with something important to say about the potentialities and larger implications presented by the new digital technology (and, in his case, crap old synths, acoustic guitar or clarinet or double bass or celesta or dusty Marxophone or battered computer printer).
“You can be like a sculptor,” says Daedelus. “You can layer and layer and layer, and reduce and reduce and reduce. The main thing for me is to start with limitations that’s how you get the most out of it. Anything that helps limit the amount of possibilities, ’cause we’re living in a musical world that’s infinite, and it’s very daunting.
“That’s one of the reasons why I like analog synthesis. You have just a few knobs to twiddle with.”
The prolific Daedelus has released numerous solo albums for progressive/electronic labels (Phthalo, Mush, Plug Research, Laboratory Instinct), and collaborated with the redoubtable Dntel. He’s also responsible for what turned out to be arguably the most authentic hip-hop album of the last five years, The Weather, with speed-rappers Busdriver and Radioinactive. His latest, Exquisite Corpse (Mush/Ninja Tune), is a swirling steaming vessel of cinematic string splendor and dialogue snatches blended with mind-shatteringly elaborate though entirely slamming beats. He’s also recruited guest rhymers from the pick o’ the pack, including MF Doom, Sci, Cyne and Mike Ladd, as well as Prefuse 73 fella Scott Herren, who lends an editing/mixing hand.
Not just another nosedive into the eternal, ever-morphing ocean of beats & samples, Exquisite Corpse (named after the Surrealist parlor game) is a work of weight that grows in impact and wisdom the more you open yourself to it. The arrangements and programming are things of extraordinary craft, matching tones with other tones as if they were paying each other compliments, saying things it’d take a zillion words to describe. Richly disparate in both source material and concept, the disc is a virtual handbook for aspiring DJs and “serious” composers alike.
Be forewarned: Daedelus has a bigger record collection than God, covering not just your basics in hip-hop, jazz, and vintage funk/R&B/soul but many or most of the Hollywood and Euro film soundtracks circa 19401980; every kind of world music that ever was; healthy chunks of vintage electro-acoustic and musique concrète; and a lot of bossa nova, música popular brasileira and batucada. All this stuff, believe me, looks great on his shelves. And virtually all of it sounds incredible dissolved into his own music.
Daedelus grew up in Santa Monica and attended USC, where he studied double bass, clarinet and jazz. For a brief period he went around telling people he was from Wales. But he was lying.
“Well, I’m Welsh on my father’s side. I was obsessed with Wales.”
That’s probably why he named one of his best albums, Of Snowdonia, after the national park in northern Wales. It’s an album of the most sweetly luxuriant orchestral samples liberally sprinkled with bells, then finely entangled, giving birth to charming lullabies and zap! rather rudely hyper drum & bass strangulations. In its constant interruptions of flow, it declares that here, at least, Daedelus simply won’t be constrained to any genre.
“It kind of depends on the record,” he says. “A lot of times I shoot for a genre: I try to use the clichés of a genre in a good way, take some defining moment or something and put my spin on it.”
But the end result can be quite deviant. “When I put out the The Weather record, I was trying to make a hip-hop record, but it didn’t turn out that way at all at least a lot of [purists] didn’t think so. But that’s okay, ’cause if I’m working with a cliché, something’s gonna happen within those confines.”
One byproduct of Daedelus’ way of beginning a track with one idea and ending up with an entirely different one is that he uncovers enormous swathes of emotional/atmospheric terrain over the course of an album, and usually within each track.
“I like to try and keep a continuity to it, but if I sample something, I often forget where I sampled it from, and kind of stutter. Sometimes things are very calculating, sometimes very random. The main thing is, I try to keep it different for myself; I think if I had one path I’d get really bored.” Witness the Invention album, which features a printer solo. “Somebody was printing out while I was working on a song, and it just clicked. And then I messed around with typing different things and trying to do different rhythms and . . .”
Daedelus is literally reshaping the sound and structure of music for a new generation of (hopefully) open-minded music fans. “This idea that you have to have a beginning and end to something, it gets to be oppressive. Though I prefer shorter songs, ’cause it’s presenting an idea, I’m probably more of a maximalist than a minimalist. I like the big, grand gestures, and all that stuff.”
The nature of the recording studio, however, can dictate reality even for an artist who dedicates himself to creating music spontaneously a fact that’s at the core of Daedelus’ trip.
“I really like the idea of improvising and aleatoric music, but it’s so hard to achieve that in the studio, where things are very calculating. It doesn’t seem possible.” Which is perhaps why Daedelus has been hitting the stage a lot recently, honing his live act to keep the crowds bumping and, crucially, getting their feedback.
“I’m working more on developing a dynamic show. I interact with my audience to a certain degree, and I have to take them into consideration, ’cause I value them very high-ly. I really respect people who sometimes listen, especially in this world of so much music, to take a moment to listen to my music.
“And I leave it to the label or critics to think about what to call it. But all that is secondary; the music happens, and then you can interact and talk about it. I’m trying to tell people that it doesn’t really make a difference to the music.”