“Electronic music gives you freedom, […] the freedom to get rid of musical idioms.” Friedman’s decade-spanning career has been all about exercising this freedom, and no record demonstrates this as well as The Pestle. Though billed as an album, it’s really a compilation, presenting tracks made between 1993 and 2011 in reverse chronological order. It demonstrates that, while Friedman’s music has developed hugely in that time, his intentions have stayed much the same.
The opening tracks are gems in Friedman’s recent style, skillfully weaving acoustic and electronic sounds into unusual rhythmic frameworks. On “Monkhide,” the creamy, sustained tones of saxophonist Hayden Chisholm are stitched into the mix. On “The Pestle,” Takeshi Nishimoto’s sarod makes careful interjections in a sparse soundscape reminiscent of dub. Both tracks are emotionally withdrawn but texturally ravishing. From there, the release pivots around two productions from the ‘90s. “Nerfs d’Acier” was made a year before Friedman met drummer Jaki Liebezeit – a turning point in his musical development. The electronics overpowers the acoustic sounds in a terse electro groove, and it’s the record’s most energetic track. (The title means “Nerves Of Steel,” but the rhythmic stutters suggest weakening resolve.) 1996’s “Intrication” is a cruder rendering of the decentred rhythm-grids found in Friedman’s later music. It sounds something like a percussive techno track from the era, whose kick drum has disappeared.
The Pestle’s final third recalls the surrealist downtempo Friedman made with projects like Drome and Nonplace Urban Field (though these tracks have dated significantly better than many released at the time). 1994’s “Sorcier” is a balmy head trip, its lead lines keening like nocturnal animals under a star canopy of twinkling bells. “Day In Rho,” from the year before, is even more sentimental, capturing post-euphoric bliss in a way that has since become cliché. The sweetness of these tracks is a welcome contrast to Friedman’s sterner later productions, but in other respects they aren’t so different. Just as his recent music uses unconventional rhythms to escape Western tradition, these tracks, like much ‘90s electronica, use the momentum of rave culture to break free of conventional forms. In both cases, the goal is to escape the familiar—and Friedman is one of the most gifted escape artists out there.
Vinyl, Digital, Streaming
Dublate & Mastering, Berlin
Honest Jon’s/The Orchard
Recorded between 1993 and 2011.
First 300 covers are hand printed.
Hayden Chisholm (Monkhide)
Takeshi Nishimoto (The Pestle)