24 Dances for the Electric Piano

24 Dances for the Electric Piano [Detail]

I try to focus my attention at Tiny Books on the intersection of design and business. Occasionally, however, my mind strays… and I hope my occasional foray into the worlds of typography and music don’t prove too distracting. I’m me and these are my thoughts. (Most of them.)

I discovered Cory Arcangel’s ‘24 Dances for the Electric Piano’ yesterday (heaven knows how… hyperlinks, I imagine). It’s utterly wonderful. I’ve been using it as an aural wallpaper and it’s a perfect backdrop for getting work done.

Arcangel describes himself as a post-conceptual artist (make of that what you will) and I’ve always found his works consistently interesting and challenging. He studied at Oberlin Conservatory for Music and this pedigree suffuses ‘24 Dances for the Electric Piano’.

I’ve always enjoyed compositions for piano – Debussy, in particular – but Arcangel’s two dozen compositions hit a sweet spot, marrying the crisp cadence of the electric piano to musical motifs drawn from the era of house music.

You don’t have to have lived through the golden era of house music – I have warm memories – to appreciate Arcangel’s music. These motifs have carved their way into the fabric of contemporary culture. As he puts it:

The sounds on certain machines can take on a life of their own. They’ve been used by so many people that they have this whole history when you hear them. You don’t hear a tinny, shitty sound; you hear all the previous songs you have loved.

I couldn’t summarise it better. What’s so enjoyable about ‘24 Dances for the Electric Piano’ is the fact that it’s the essence of house, and pop, culture. Boiled down. Incredibly distilled versions of versions.

I was surprised to discover, in an article at Vulture, that – contrary to what you might think when you’re listening – every composition is original. This only serves to underline the remarkable nature of the project.

Arcangel has captured the semi-anonymous, underground language of turn of the millennium club culture and abstracted it into the distinctive, machine language of the here and now. The album’s liner notes, summarise this ‘ghost in the machine’ spirit perfectly: “As performed by Musical Instrument Digital Interface Controlled Korg Emixr Music Workstation.”

Human. Computer. Soul.

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