The Music of Sound

Click, shriek, boom! Sonic collage artist Escape Mechanism cuts and pastes while aural trickster Lost in Translation slashes and burns

"I have this theory that, culturally, all good things originate in the Midwest." Having intimated this, local electronic-music agitator Jace Krause takes a swig of his third Guinness of the hour and grins conspiratorially. Sunk deep in a chair in the dark back room of the Loring Bar, the mastermind behind the blitzkrieg breakbeats and alien drones of his musical alter ego, Lost in Translation, grins coyly and leans forward. His wild eyes dart from side to side as he fires off a list of items to prove his point: the Coen brothers, the guerrilla comedy troupe Upright Citizens' Brigade, the Chicago post-rock record label Thrill Jockey. "You can fill in whatever names come to mind," he says. "But there's a lot of cool shit coming out of the Midwest."

Critics may soon be adding a pair of Minneapolis-based soundscapists to that list in the persons of Krause and Jonathan Nelson (a.k.a. Escape Mechanism), two twentysomethings who specialize in very different versions of what Krause calls "experimental music made by nonmusicians." Certainly their '90s musique concrète is some of the most intriguing noise to come out of the Twin Cities in recent months. And while Krause, a rock band veteran, and Nelson, a classically trained pianist, are in fact experienced musicians, they've rejected their musical backgrounds to embrace a DIY approach to pop-culture collage.

Which is basically where any similarities between the two end. The lanky, 29-year-old Krause is a wild-eyed radical who has a maniacal smile and an overpoweringly gregarious persona. Nelson is a tall, shy University of Minnesota cultural studies major with close-cropped hair and meticulously maintained sideburns. They've never met, they never perform together, and their sounds are diametrically opposed. Escape Mechanism's carefully crafted sound bites and familiar musical motifs on his self-titled debut are almost poppy, while Lost in Translation's feverish blurt is confrontational and intense. Imagine the latter as a kind of Public Enemy and the former as a De La Soul. Yet taken together, the pair present a fascinating study in the aesthetics and politics of one of the decade's ascending artistic genres.

 

Lost in Translation's side of the just-out "Premium Crack" split 12-inch (with Substance P) presents bracing, violent breakbeats--that is, looped rhythm tracks--and blotchy, overdriven bass tones that evoke an overheated vacuum cleaner. Whirling clouds of static circle through the mix, and a weird sense of uninhibited glee--a giddy Look, Ma, no melody! attitude--unites it all.

The debut release on Krause's recently launched History of the Future label, "Premium Crack" is just one salvo from the international "breakcore" underground promoted by labels like Germany's Digital Hardcore, Scotland's Diskono, and California's Vinyl Communication. Breakcore takes pummeling, ultrafast gabber techno and dirgelike drum 'n' bass, throws the mixture into a blender, and spikes it with loud fuzz and distorted sound effects. The result is a product that in some sense defies description while inviting metaphor: Imagine it as a robot's bombastic soapbox speech delivered over a bad PA system in machine language.

Krause is almost evangelical about the power of horrible noise. Discussing the scene he's part of, he practically lights up our dim table at the Loring. "Everything we've liked over the last 10 years finds its way into what we do," he explains, referring to his breakcore cohorts. "There's a lot of connections between extreme musics, and we're trying to bring those out. It doesn't fit any one place: It's too techno for the noise scene and too noisy for the techno scene."

Born in Chicago, Krause started getting into records at age 5. "My dad had a really nice stereo and a lot of old records, and I just dove into them," he says. As a teenager, he discovered hardcore punk and leftist politics, and eventually started studying a kind of homemade noise aesthetic--which he describes as, "one note played for an hour."

Attending college in De Kalb, Ill., Krause starting going to raves thrown by Milwaukee's Drop Bass Network. "At first, I'd just go into the chill-out room, because I was into ambient at the time. I hated jungle and gabber--I thought it was too fast." Here he stops for a second and grins. "Now, nothing's fast enough for me."

After college Krause abandoned his Amphetamine Reptile-style noise-punk band, Festering Rinyanyons, and followed his girlfriend Lita (now his wife) to her native Minneapolis, where he began work on Lost in Translation. The project took form in 1996, as Krause began to create the "droney lo-fi soundscapes" that have since morphed into the brutally hard music featured at a recent installment of Jitters' monthly experimental music showcase, The New Atlantis.

The hype surrounding Lost in Translation that evening packed the room with an occasionally puzzled, mostly attentive assortment of friends, scenemakers, and curious first-timers, and Krause's first set was by turns intriguing and frustrating. Manipulating analog sequencers, he unleashed loud sheets of white noise that occasionally revealed fascinating textures--an electronic wind gusting in from a metallic tundra. When the beats got going, the sound became groovy, if not exactly grooveful. Without the rhythms, however, the noise started to seem formless, like a snarling open radio channel to the underworld, and the crowd appeared lost. The formula, in a phrase: No momentum equals no fun.

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