Terre Thaemlitz: Lovebomb
Mille Pateaux

The very title of Thaemlitz's recording hints at the complexities therein. One might initially interpret Lovebomb to mean 'an explosion of love,' an interpretation that would be, of course, too literal. A more accurate rendering of the title's meaning comes from the liner notes where Thaemlitz argues that beating beneath the heart of passionate protestations of love lurks its corrupt cousin, hate. Religious zeal, for example, may bespeak a loving adoration of a singular deity but often carries with it a dose of hateful intolerance for the gods worshipped by others. Love's hidden partner is violence, evidenced by the fact that typically we hurt those we love most; for example, parental and spousal abuse occur within family contexts where love is presumed to be deepest. He further argues that we have become blind to the idiosyncratic meanings of ‘love' by virtue of the term's ubiquity. His recent relocation to Japan prompts him to witness the cultural differences surrounding love's manifestation. Westerners conceive of it in unbridled and passionate terms, whereas Japanese lovers adopt a more distant and reserved stance, one that perhaps seems cold to Western eyes. He concludes that love is hardly a simplistic emotion but is instead “an equation of contextually specific cultural variables.” Arguing against the reductivism with which love is typically conceived, Thaemlitz writes, “Each (love song) is a redundant construction of pacifying hysteria, a mandatory insult to appease ourselves. Indeed, a love song's persuasive image of universality is its greatest act of mentally invasive violence.”

The recording itself is a remarkably sequenced aural travelogue of speech samples, piano pieces, processed sounds, and digital composition. Thaemlitz deploys African speakers, celebrity and news media figures, family members, Futurist leader Filippo Marinetti, radio announcers, and myriad snippets of love songs to create a provocative, dense tapestry of sound. “Welcome (Time Has Left Us)” opens with a recitative voice altered so heavily by digital processing it sounds like the garblings of a drowning man. Gunfire, African singers, and an announcer for Radio Freedom, the voice of the African National Congress, appear in “Between Empathy and Sympathy is Time (Apartheid).” Who but Thaemlitz would think to use Minnie Ripperton's “Lovin' You' as a melodic base for the processed speechifying of an ANC spokesperson? When Thaemlitz similarly used Billy Joel's “Just the Way You Are” on Means From An End as raw material for numerous cut-up treatments, the jarring effect forced the listener to hear the song anew. This latest application deepens the approach by investing it with a striking irony; in effect, the love song becomes the melodic vehicle through which a plea for uprising and revolution is delivered. “SDII” uses vocodered speech samples of Sammy Davis Jr. and news figure Charles Kuralt that were broadcast upon the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Here again themes of racism, oppression, and violence are front and center. The 10-minute “‘Lovebomb,” a digital composition of bold dynamic contrasts, is followed by the stunning “Slintesi Musicale Del Linciaggio Futurista (Musical Synthesis of Futurist Lynching)” where Thaemlitz draws connections between the 1906 Springfield lynching of three black men and Filippo Marinetti's Futurism Manifesto of 1909. Marinetti himself is heard declaiming throughout in Italian, accompanied by digitally manipulated piano recordings of Frencesco Balilla Pratella's Futurist composition “Giorno Di Festa (Festival Day)” and Billie Holiday's signature song “Strange Fruit,” composed by L. Allen. “Signal Jamming Propaganda (Just Another Fucking Love Song)” is the most collage-like track, constructed as it is of numerous fragments of 'love' utterances taken from a vast catalogue of song sources (such as Eurythmics' “‘Love is a Stranger”) interspersed with samples of Eastern European radio announcers. In “My Song of Peace, Friendship and Solidarity,” a singer's live performance, in direct contradiction to the song's title, is subjected to extreme editing in order to reduce it to a vocalized litany of violent acts. “Ai No Bakudan (Between Empathy and Sympathy is Time)” features aural transcripts of survivors coupled with massing layers of processed sound that subsist at becalmed levels and then surge dramatically to deafening crescendi. A brief reprise leads into the “‘Main Theme From Lovebomb,” a one-minute collage wherein all Lovebomb tracks sound simultaneously, thus presenting all of the recording's themes together. An extended silence ensues to serve as a buffer before the bonus track, as well as perhaps a commemoration for the survivors and oppressed victims given such vivid presence in the preceding pieces. The bonus track “Chng Yourlove” wouldn't sound out of place on any of the clicks'n'cuts compilations and consequently doesn't fit in with the overall collage approach. Initially constructed using layers of glitch elements, it eventually incorporates an 80s-style disco song that emerges from the background, its vocalists chanting the title incessantly.

In Thaemlitz's view, love is at the heart of conflict and conquest, and even the cover artwork pursues this theme. Line drawings are adorned colourfully with scattered flowers, yet closer inspection reveals a subway car of lifeless passengers, presumably victims of a biological attack, while the inner drawing shows the Springfield lynching that forms a key part of the track “Slintesi Musicale Del Linciaggio Futurista (Musical Synthesis of Futurist Lynching).” Based upon the aural evidence of Lovebomb (as well as its predecessors), Terre Thaemlitz is an artist whose work should be celebrated and treasured. For many years, he has staked out courageously his own unique branch of electronic music, one singularly rich in conception, imagination, and execution. Consider for a moment a sampling of his diverse oeuvre: the Rubato recordings of music by Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, and Devo; Love for Sale, his exploration of Queer culture and its media-constructed manifestations; Interstices, its tracks generated from isolated interstitial fragments; and Means from an End, an astonishing recording whose cut-up and computer synthesis techniques transformed old jazz pieces, Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Billy Joel's “Just the Way You Are.” Lovebomb maintains that high standard by transmuting its wealth of speech fragments and processed sounds into a deeply affecting aural collage.

June 2003