Freeform: Audiotourism: Vietnam and China

Quatermass, 2001

Audiotourism: Vietnam and China cover

Freeform is one of the most underrated electronic acts making music these days. Simon Pyke ought to be spoken of in the same breath as Tom Jenkinson, Rob Brown, and Sean Booth--the sounds he turns out are always original and inspired. With Audiotourism, Freeform takes the tried-and-true musical travelogue and turns it on its head. The Designers Republic’s minimal packaging includes maps of where Mr. Pyke captured audio samples and Liz Scarff took photographs. According to the liner notes, “Armed with a minidisk, pair of in[-]ear microphones, radio, portable sampler and camera[,] every experience, however small and quiet, was recorded.... This album is the result of two months exploring the backstreets of Vietnam and the Yunnan province....”

On track after track, Asian instruments and voices magically meld with rolling electronic basslines. Pleasing melodies are subtly woven into the rich, atmospheric percussion. My two favorite tracks come at the album’s end: “Crosstalk” features an intoxicating bassline and singing bowl notes that are somehow reminiscent of early twentieth-century cinema; “Terminal 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,(12)” is based on vocal counting. It’s a pattern and melody that must have been stuck in Mr. Pyke’s head as he wandered the countryside.

I’m really enjoying this CD. Its release was delayed several times this year, but it is worth the wait. Stay tuned for a double-CD remix compilation called Audio Tourism: Sources with reinterpretations by Bill Laswell, Autechre, Bisk, and others.

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