Music For Buildings
tobias c. van Veen
side 1:

side 2:


Cover by tobias c. van Veen

  1. Music For Buildings A side  
  2. Music For Buildings B side  
txt liner notes
complete zip file of entire album with cover and liner notes
Music For Buildings

First released: 1998 (50 copies)
Second release: 1999 (100 copies)
90 minutes

Throughout the spring and summer of 1998, I was engaged with the Make Friends Not War series of outdoor DJ gatherings in downtown Vancouver. Every Sunday morning, members of the Whirled Bees Collective and others from <ST>, TeamLounge, HQ Communications and the rave populace scarcely sentient from the night’s rituals would gather to dance through the long Sunday afternoons. Buffering the bodies seeking solace, meaning and avowed “community” in the dance were the abrupt rhythms of traffic and the Sunday rush–the casual hordes of assembling onlookers arrested in their shopping desires. For many, it was a post-rave comedown, replete in the sun, spliff in hand, as beats ricocheted from pavement and tower. MFNW started as somewhat of a protest, if not one clearly articulated, then at least a sonic movement that takes as its space the city itself. What remains commendable was that this stealthy crew could commandeer, without too much trouble, and admidst the rave and Ecstasy (MDMA) hype, outcry and misinformation that painted the city’s dailies, public spaces such as Robson Square (at the Vancouver Art Gallery) and the steps of the amphitheatre-like Vancouver Public Library. Robson Square had a very edgy, public feel to it–the pictures here are from this location. Sunk underneath the pavement (the Square is below street level & covered, as it used to be an outdoor skating rink), the beats would rise up in greeting to tourists strolling the ritzy district. Security would invariably interrogate the organisers over permission attained for the event and so on. In the end a few “incidents” involving exhausted chemical bodies forced MFNW to abandon this location, but certainly it provided an energy and presence that overcame, at least for a moment, the codified pleasures of the cement city: shopping, driving, arresting. It also forged a temporary alliance with the skateboarders, who tore up the north side of the Gallery's steps.

With a brief interval at the Vancouver Public Library (noise complaints), MFNW mobilized to the fountain plaza of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. A little on the offside, it offered a downtown location that was nonetheless spacious and came with its own public art. We could dance in peace, and it was here that the impact of the city's rhythms began to affect and seep into my DJing: cuts, off-kilter rhythms, reduction of high-end frequencies (think of the city as it hums), the wandering into a structure, the stop and start, the flows of sound and movement given structural design, the noise pollution of traffic (honking, aggression, squealing, braking). By investigating minimal techno of Detroit, Berlin and UK varieties, with the hard 2/4 of a stripped and angular Chicago House, I began an exploration of percussive and subsonic rhythms that were to form Music For Buildings. At the time, mixing 2CB records into techno, at the verge of noise, at the cut of rupturing all flow, I realised I was not playing so much for the dancers, nevermind the ravers (who would usually forsake these experiments), and sometimes not even for the listeners, unless the buildings, the structure of the city itself, has ears.

The first side is a slow and technical yet dirty exploration of the rhythms of traffic, eventually removed of its edge to hear the minimalist curvature of the traffic grid and its echo. Imagine a film of a city's traffic, and this as the soundtrack; as you hear the city, shift frequencies, shift focus–a particular automobile, the pattern, like a swarm of ants, defying the whole. As the traffic blurs in its stop-start, so do the mixes; precision is overcome by off-beat rhythms and the production of dissonant mixing. The sonic expression becomes impressionistic: hazy, polluted, stained, left, at the end, to rot.

The second side is the response, the pullback, the zoom-out, the speed mix (sample the end of Koyaanisqatsi—circuit board and city). There is anger here. I felt akin with Detroit’s alien sonographies of the Axis and Underground Resistance, and Britain’s hard techno, of which I imagined industrial class conflict (Surgeon, especially). Hard, fast, polyrhythmic, this side is more emotional than the first, and speaks to a certain improvisational challenge that I came to accept when DJing as quickly as possible, with speed as essence, with speed as that which grinds the teeth of a body approaching madness. If the first side monumentalizes the loneliness and melancholy of a city's structural design, the second side is the critique—the aural equivalent of the rock through the window (and one year after APEC 1997, we were anticipating the upcoming WTO conference in Seattle, 1999).

Yet the second side hints at resolution, at what was to come with dub techno and the glitch, the areferential plea, the burnout genres of techno as it faced its autodestructive impulses. Two records pitch-shifted down in mid-mix drop into Christian Morgenstern, and off into the paranoia of the mind entrapped in its own spacious realm, the mental imaginary of cut words and lost memories from the night (and unable to write them into the city's hard surfaces, so we resonate). And, melody.

Both of these mixes were notated along conceptual lines with tracks designated in the particular orders in which you hear them. However, the time and length of the specific mixes were left to improvisation. Each side is one take, with no computer or otherwise studio editing or production.

-tobias c. van Veen
March, 2004

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