It is an understatement to say that electronic music is a vast universe of sound. Looking back to the pioneers, half of the scene has attempted to either reconstruct existing sounds or create new ones. The analog synthesis of Moog and Buchla among others helped to begin the trend (think Wendy Carlos or Isao Tomita), while later FM and wavetable synthesis propelled creativity even further (see Brian Eno or Michael McNabb’s groundbreaking 1979 composition, “Dreamsong”). On the other hand is the recontextualization of existing sounds, such as the tape-cutting abandon of musique concrete (Pierre Schaeffer), and the splicing and turntablism of vinyl records (Christian Marclay). But while all of this propelled musical circuitry to the mainstream, no one could have anticipated what the digital era had in store.
If you haven’t watched that Christian Marclay piece, then you’re missing out on how we got to today’s electronic music. Record scratching and sampling funk and jazz hits became a mainstay of hip-hop music. Sampled disco records became ubiquitous with the earlier albums of Daft Punk and Justice. In terms of the latter, some became obsessed with distorting music in exponentially extreme ways. Markus Popp, Sebastian Oschatz, and Frank Metzger literally mutilated Aphex Twin CDs and recorded the result as Oval. Producer Marc Leclair combined hundreds of short FM radio samples to create rhythmic house music as Akufen. By this point, we’ve finally reached the exploitation of computer malfunctions through something known as glitch music. If electrically engineered music technology is meant to sound warm, inherently unstable, yet human-like, then glitch is its cold digital analog. Bonus points if you caught the pun.
It is within this long, spiraling synopsis of electronic music that we’ve finally reached the culmination of all these disparate styles. After nearly 100 years, it’s all starting to come full circle. _yi. is a music producer and sound artist for media, yet his musical work seamlessly combines much of what we’ve been discussing. Throughout his latest release, “NULUV”, jazz fusion and Jpop collides with maximal mid-tempo EDM, a glitch aesthetic reminiscent of the 1990s and 2000s microhouse scene, and neon video-game melodies that point back to those Nintendo Gamecube and Wii games you might have forgotten about.
Intro “zero” opens with an intense chorale of strings, jazzy synths, and booming kicks before a robotic vocal counts down to “one.” Bright upbeat chords, bells, and guitars complement spliced R&B vocals and a heavily swung beat. Tiny flourishes of Asian stringed instruments and video game arpeggios appear in every space imaginable, and in the middle of the track, an energetic lead synth funkily riffs a fantastic solo. Everything about the song screams fun and exudes overwhelming happiness that will make you grin widely. “sound” begins with another robotic vocal, “I love putting sounds together like this,” before an onslaught of heavily glitched vocals and chords erupt over a massive bassline and electro beat. Every sound you can imagine seems to be used here, and after an incredibly dizzying arrangement of glitches are played, the vocal comes back in to exclaim, “That’s why sounds are awesome.” Indeed, they are, and especially when used in _yi.’s masterful hands.
The funky horns and chords of “island” seem to directly reference those Wii and Gamecube games I mentioned earlier. Just imagine playing Mario Kart to this track. It would make the game even more addicting to play. “1997” is a slow dance tune that references the Chicago house chords and 909 drum sounds of the 1990s, yet the atmosphere seems fit to be played in high-end fashion boutiques and Abercrombie. Even the string sounds seem to be a homage to Madonna’s “Vogue”, yet the sounds way more energetic and fun than her dance classic. “miyama” begins with a collage of guitars, vocals, and synths that seem cut from the same cloth as Akufen’s “Deck the House.” However, it’s clear from the track’s monstrous 80s-esque drums and future bass-like chords that the sound is nowhere near the minimalist style of microhouse. Closer track “towers” features the delightful Japanese vocals of Tokyo-based singer maimie, but it’s the album’s most pop-sounding tune. The walking bassline and gated drums rank with the best soft pop songs of the 1980s, while the sterile production of hypersaw synths and FM synths gives the nostalgic sound a modern spin. While there are no glitch aesthetics anywhere on the track, it’s nevertheless extremely catchy and enjoyable.
_yi.’s “NULUV” is a strange curiosity. It’s completely unexpected in its combination of glitchy abandon and Asian pop sensibilities. Yet at the same time, all the signs have been pointing towards this very direction for years. The Japanese have been pioneering this sort of thing since Yellow Magic Orchestra (thanks, Ryuichi Sakamoto, for not only your emotionally gripping music from “The Revenant,” but for providing one-third of this fun little oddity). When glitch music was commercially popularized with Aphex Twin’s disturbing music videos, it was only a matter of time before glitch started appearing in this context. _yi. spins the intense digital mutilations of Oval and Akufen with the warmth of Daft Punk, the nostalgia of chiptune music, and the best of today’s glitch-hop. Not to mention, never before has glitch-based music sounded this insanely fun, addictingly catchy, and overwhelmingly listenable. It’s a real treat and a fantastic summer album. Get it while you can.
Genre: EDM/Glitch pop/Asian pop
Available to buy as limited edition CD or digital download at https://waiai.bandcamp.com/!