October 7, 2004

Test Spin: ???

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In the simplest terms, and as the subtitle helpfully notes, this album is “Insect Electronica from South-East Asia.” Recorded by Tucker Martine, the album purports to be field recordings of assorted insects from Burma, Laos, and Thailand. In fact, the liner notes go so far as to repeatedly assure the listener that the recordings were minimally edited and remain otherwise unprocessed.

Split into four movements, Broken-Hearted Dragonflies opens in total darkness amidst a torrential downpour that breaks into a dewy calm where tropical insects, rodents, and general flotsam writhe around on luminous river banks. However, the “musicians” sound more like crickets than dragonflies; their modulated creaking and ceaseless scratching bounce off the water and themselves, testing the technical specs of Martine’s recording devices. Indeed, if there’s any one glaring flaw, it’s that Martine’s equipment seems incapable of faithfully capturing these shrill little exothermic creatures that would make Mariah Carey wilt away. By “Brood X,” the flitting and harmonizing has become less regular, and the last two tracks tend to recede away into silence a little too frequently. Not that this is a criticism of the album; it’s more a criticism of the Burmese insects. Occasionally, they emit vertiginous riffs that sound like revving carbine engines and crashing rocket ships. At times, it is literally impossible to believe any creature on earth could sound like this. I don’t want to interrogate Martine’s integrity, but it seems as though these segments must have been embellished in a studio. (After all, it’s called “Insect Electronica.”) Which leaves us with three scenarios: 1) Martine has cruelly abused his audience by promising an exotic experience, only to deliver a sham; 2) Martine has delivered a sham, with the full expectation that listeners will understand and enjoy the artifice of the fictional field recordings; or 3) He has actually recorded the most bizarre insects in the world. (***1/2)

Archived article by Alex Linhardt
Red Letter Daze Editor