Sampladelia / Self-released / May 24, 2018 – Reviewed by Jon Lindblom
Klein’s music is a great example of the difference between modern and postmodern usages of collage (although I tend to prefer the term ‘montage’ when discussing its modernist varieties). Whereas the latter merely assembles pre-existing cultural material into aesthetic non-spaces that produce the temporal flattening of postmodernism, the former creates novel syntheses, or forms, from its individual components. And while a cursory look at the many musical samples and references that constitute Klein’s sonic profile – everything from The Blair Witch Project, Foo Fighters and the RnB singer Brandy to jungle, noise and gospel – may give an impression of the hyperrealist decontextualisation of postmodern collage, the way that she reworks them into stunningly labyrinthine compositions defies such simple categorisation. Indeed, the difficulty of categorising her work in general is one of its main strengths.
In his writings on the key years of rave culture in the book Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture (2013), the music critic Simon Reynolds coined the term ‘sampladelia’ (sampling + psychedelia) in order to pinpoint the mind-bending sonic experiments of the rave producers who rejected naturalistic recording techniques by using the sampler as a sound-morphing machine, rather than as device for ‘quoting’ other musical compositions. The sampler thus came to embody the tension between modernist montage and postmodern collage: it could either be utilised for what Reynolds refers to as ‘elaborate games of Pop Art referentiality’, or for what he calls ‘a crucible sonic alchemy – the transmutation of source material into something ‘new’, sounds that seemingly originate from imaginary of even unimaginable instruments’. Yet complete abstraction is not necessarily desirable either, as he also points out, insofar as what is most fascinating with the sonic alchemy of sampled sounds is when they retain an ‘uncanny, just-recognizable trace of the original’s aura’ – that is, like a distorted face or a body with an impossible morphology. In that regard, sampladelia is also an example of the inorganic aesthetics theorised by Peter Bürger in his writings on the historical avant-garde: a surgical-like procedure that slices open its sonic specimens and reconfigures them into cognitively dissonant, alien structures that also invoke Walter Benjamin’s thoughts on the similarities between surgical instruments and technologies of (re)production.
On cc, her fourth major release and follow-up to last year’s Tommy that came out on Hyperdub, Klein keeps pushing her sampladelia further into similar alien territories. Even though it once again is a relatively short release (an EP at around 25 minutes), its complexity nevertheless exceeds many albums that are two or three times as long. Like on Tommy, it opens with a relatively straightforward vocal track, only to then slowly mutate into an uncanny sonic landscape that invokes the cognitive disjunction between aura and abstraction as theorised by Reynolds. Crucial here is her brilliant usage of key sound-morphing capacities of the sampler – pitch-shifting, time-stretching and looping – that all are deployed in compelling ways throughout the record – such as on tracks like ‘Stop’ and ‘Apologise’, which both synthesise voice, noise, ambience and rhythm into the kinds of fascinating compositions that we have come to expect from Klein.
But what is equally fascinating about her sampladelia is that it is not embedded within a familiar referential frame – that is, within the signature sounds and/or structures of a genre (such as hip-hop or RnB). Rather, she is using the sampler as a means for navigating between genres as such, and thus finds novel syntheses outside of existing genre conventions (this is particularly evident on Tommy). In that regard, perhaps another way to think of Klein’s music is in terms of what the philosopher Ray Brassier has referred to as the ‘anomalous zones of interference between genres’ that is inhabited by noise, understood as ‘a genre predicated upon the negation of genre’. For Brassier, the best noise musicians are those that turn this apparent paradox into an enabling condition for practice by utilising its sonic anomaly as a means for overcoming the conventions that inevitably will accumulate within the confines of any given genre through the ‘forging [of] previously unimaginable links between currently inexistent genres’. Noise thus on the one hand signifies ‘the abstract negation of genre’, and on the other hand ‘the production of hitherto unknown genres’ through the construction of novel sonic linkages in ways that defy easy categorisation into existing genres. This indeed seems to me to be a key component of Klein’s sampladelia (and perhaps one way to rethink the latter’s cultural significance following the ‘death of rave’): the abstract negation of genre through the synthetic transformation of genre conventions into what we, once again following Brassier, may refer to as ‘a monstrous but exhilarating hybrid’. The importance of such aesthetic experiments should not be underestimated in a culture where the mere quoting and collaging of already established genres have become the unacknowledged norm. And in that regard, perhaps the work of artists such as Klein may offer us a much needed way out of the straightjackets of current genre conventions.