(B-Group, 2000)

There's a thought experiment I've considered, and in it, all CDs would be distributed to reviewers completely at random, sans bios, track titles or liner notes, without anything but music itself, burned on to perfect voids of unmarked silver, blind and anonymous. The goal would be to produce the purest possible impression with no expectations, no genres and no preconceptions, just acoustics and nothing more.

This approach might be especially problematic when an album and its story are as intertwined as they are with Mitges' Boptronica. In 1997, the James Mitges Group recorded Density, an exercise in nearly-live jazz. Years later, producer/keyboardist Brent Bodrug unearthed the original eight-hour session tapes for Density and reimagined them as raw material, cutting, adding and remixing to form Boptronica. Boptronica, now credited to Mitges, is in essence a radical remix based on the "rough drafts" of Density. Taken together, the two projects might make for a fascinating study in comparative methodology, but for me Boptronica becomes instead a stand-alone piece that still constantly alludes to its repurposed heritage.

As the title implies, Boptronica is electronica influenced, with strong beats and samples throughout. The first track, "Do you Wanna Play," includes both heavy percussion and distorted vocal samples. There's some repetitiveness here, potentially problematic for me because I'm often annoyed by pronounced samples and beats. But the track remains fluid, and leads to "Kristen," whose limited vocals and catchy sax riffs nearly sketch out the skeletal lines of a conventional song. A brief eerie interlude follows, as Boptronica presents a mix of titled songs and untitled tracks, the latter varying from semiformal introductions to random products of studio engineering. This structure keeps the listener guessing, and inspires visions of Bodrug endlessly tinkering in his studio, alternately gestating full tunes and releasing partially grown mutations.

This spectrum from experiment to song forms a diverting if sometimes only sporadically engaging quilt, woven from patchwork elements of jazz and dance cultures. "Waves" features a mild synthesizer opening which rises into a manic beat-based midsection, before an abrupt yet appropriate ending. "Density" keeps the electronic percussion low key, mixed with melancholy horns and ambient backgrounds. "Batteries Not Included" opens with a dialing telephone and line noise, before bursting into a fat bass line and the wail of brass instrumentation, and then sliding conclusively into Bodrug's stark solo piano. Dissatisfied with what would be an elegant finale, Boptronica closes with another interlude, unfinished and angular, as if emphasizing that the experiments back in the lab really end only when the listener stops listening.

Theoretically, a completely pure impression would also require a completely pure listener, one with no history, no memory and no empathy. Yet a newborn baby, or worse a human raised without ever hearing music, would make a dismal reviewer. Context means ears and minds open to the world, willing to be marked by it in ways positive and negative; it means hearts and voices willing to reflect those same experiences back again. Without these, we might as well abandon the creation and absorption of music to the mechanisms in our labs. Brent Bodrug never succumbs to such overly mechanistic temptations with Boptronica, and so the results remain intriguing, sometimes uneven, but enjoyably and ultimately human.

[ by Ken Fasimpaur ]
Rambles: 5 January 2002