I’m not going to attempt to pronounce this artist’s name. Before you read any further, go ahead and look at the bottom of the article. I’ll wait.
I’m not going to attempt to pronounce this artist’s name. Before you read any further, go ahead and look at the bottom of the article. I’ll wait. Now that you’ve scratched your head, let me review this record for you and tell you how the ominous name ties directly into the future of music on the Internet as we know it.
For journalistic purposes, this artist will henceforth referred to as “Boxes.” Boxes weaves a chewy, thick, ambient drone record—a 38-minute and one-second dirge of what hell probably sounds like. Immense walls of sound cascade over each other in an impossible-to-comprehend cacophonous mess that blends in with flashbacks of the worst acid trips. And since the sheer amount of harmonious noise is almost too much to take in on the first, second or third listen, I’ll attempt to illuminate the recording process as best I can.
Boxes employs a cutting-edge complex sound-processing algorithm known colloquially as “paulstretching,” named after founder Nasca Octavian Paul. Paulstretching, for lack of better technical knowledge, hyperextends any sound fed into it, and employs plenty of reverb to give pieces the illusion of lush soundscapes. The technique originally gained popularity when someone thought it would be funny to paulstretch a Justin Bieber track. It wasn’t, but it sounded pretty cool.
Thus began a rush to paulstretch all kinds of stuff, hoping to replicate the coolness of the original paulstretched Bieber jam. As anyone with a computer and two minutes can paulstretch a “Family Guy” sound byte, nobody has produced anything worthwhile since the discovery of the technology. Nobody, that is, except Boxes.
Utilizing actual song structuring, and with a style just as low-tech as high, Boxes has crafted quite an ambient record. Deep within the catacombs of the Internet, in a place as off-the-grid as the web gets, Boxes has shared their recording secrets with a select few, planting the seeds of something that is going to change music.
Boxes first creates a sound collage, comprised of hundreds of samples of various things, mixes them and paulstretches them to an exact length. Then, they record the paulstretched signal onto a tape that has been recorded over hundreds of times, using an old boombox with precisely damaged tape heads. Finally, the tape track and original digital recording are synced up in post-production.
But does a 38-minute song full of reverb-drenched samples really work? Well, yes and no. If you look at the album as any other—a combination of songs—some work and some don’t. Some movements of Boxes’s album really soar, and others lull in parts. In some ways, this is expected, but other artists on the ambient circuit know how to make a supposed lull sound interesting. Though the intensity is lowered, the composition still holds the ear of the listener and gradually leads them to the next apex. Boxes, instead of holding the listener’s ear, drops it on the ground and picks it back up as it sees fit.
One of my favorite records is Dan Deacon’s “A Green Cobra is Awesome Versus the Sun,” a 40-minute and 56-second sinusoidal drone, and another record that relies on songwriting skills like this. However, Deacon’s “Cobra” begins with little tension and honest, wavering uncertainty, gradually building to an overpowering metallic supernova that leaves the listener’s brain floating in a sea of milk-white ambient space. Boxes is trying for that trick here, but the lulls in the piece really erode this feeling before it can build properly.
Despite these shortcomings, Boxes is really onto something here. Go ahead, try Googling the artist or album name—you won’t find it. What this means for music fans is that listening to this record is a complete “right place, right time” experience. Record stores everywhere are filled with albums that all exist in the darkest recesses of cyberspace. This and other compositions like it are only available if you can find them—a moment of nicety and discovery while the Internet’s primary focus on society is desensitization. Will you stumble across this record if you search the web for it every day? Who knows, but if Boxes is truly onto something here—and I believe it is—then music will be forever changed.
Imagine a world in which certain people have only heard certain songs through their digital travels, spontaneous world music that is only available at specific moments in time to people lucky enough to experience it. A return to individual musical discovery and blurred, perhaps eradicated lines between Internet anonymity and real human interconnectivity—that’s what Boxes says to me. What will it say to you? Answer that question if you ever find it. And if you don’t—do something inspiring. ?