January 31, 2002

Ed's Underground

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Philip Jeck is the ultimate DJ. Most DJs use 2, maybe 3 turntables in crafting their music; Jeck has used almost 200 at once. Most DJs are content to spin the latest dance floor hits; Jeck’s compositions incorporate warped old jazz records to create a truly original mix. On Vinyl Coda IV, Jeck’s distinctive style — part ambient, part jazz, part folk, part electronic — is expressed in a single 40-minute composition.

Never content to stick to “traditional” definitions of music, Jeck has defined an utterly new style on this disc. All of the records he spins in his large-scale installations are old, warped, and scratched beyond repair. What once may have been a jazzy horn solo becomes a harsh wash of static; breathy female vocals become a soothing buzz. Jeck’s music is in fact not music at all — this album represents the deconstruction of music.

Long static drones mix with the seething sound of a breaking record player — crackles, pops, and hisses that can only be the result of a record on its last legs. Jeck handles the entire affair with dazzling grace. It’s hard to tell how many records he has spinning here — he’s reportedly had as many as 180 going at once, and he usually uses at least 30 or 40. Different sounds wash in and out, interacting seemingly at random.

And certainly, randomness is a big part of this music. Each record behaves according to its own warped grooves and defects — Jeck can only choose which vinyl is going to be played. But not all of it is random. At about 25 minutes into the piece, Jeck springs his best surprise. An old Christmas carol percolates up, and for a few minutes the melody grounds the song and gives a new perspective to the proceedings.

Vinyl Coda IV is a fascinating statement on what music could be. Ambient in the best possible way, Jeck’s soothing sounds can easily fade into the background, but still demand attention.

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