w/RJD2, A Grape Dope
Mon May 19, Chop Suey, 9 pm, $12 adv.
In the evolutional lineage of electronic music devices, after the turntable came the MPC, a sampler/sequencer made by Akai. It is, like a Technics turntable, a beautiful machine; a compact bulk, with 16 black square pads, 40 or so small blue, red, and white buttons, a big black knob in the center, two small knobs on the top left corner, a fader at the bottom right corner, and a small screen displaying digital information. Product descriptions of the editing and operating features of this hiphop machine also accurately describe the music of Prefuse 73: "VCF filter sweeping with resonance," "built in oscillator or synthesizer engine," "samples can be shaped and colored by the analog-style edit functions for creating lo-fi sounds, filter swept pads, and drum loops, and other strangely modulated effects."
In fact, when talking about the MPC, there is no better place to start than with Prefuse 73 (whose original name is Scott Herren--but he also goes by Delarosa and Asora, and Savath & Savalas). "7th Message," the final track of his 2001 debut CD, Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives, opens with a rapper leaving a message on "Scotty B['s]" answering machine saying something to the effect of, "You ain't no refugee, a'ight. So keep it tight as can be, a'ight. On the MPC, a'ight." The drum kicks in and Prefuse 73 begins to chop up the letters "M," "P," and "C" with an MPC2000XL. The track, like the machine producing the beats and editing the rapper's voice, is beautiful. It is made up of strange, refracted, reheated, and reprocessed sounds. Notes and tones produced by traditional musical instruments (violin, flute, piano) are warped into beams and burns of electronic energy. The drum beats pop like a happy, shaky robot, and the sounds of new and old consumer gadgets awaken from a long sleep, as the rising light of the electricity circuiting through an activated MPC brightens the surface of their plastic cases.
"I started working at the studio in Atlanta," explains Herren of his electronic origins over a crackling, beeping cell phone. "I was doing additional production for local bands that wanted weird stuff done to their music, and making beats for crews or rappers who would come in for demos. That job at the studio is how I got my first MPC."
He says that back in 1995, his MPC cost him $2,000. "But before that I had a shitty machine; [in fact] that's how I got a job at the studio. Some friends of mine knew this dude at the studio, so I went in there to try to clean up some tracks I was working on, which was impossible, but we still tried to do it. The guy in the studio really couldn't believe I made the beats on this shitty machine, and he asked me if I wanted to make the beats for the groups that came in the studio, 'cause he couldn't do it; the guy wasn't into hiphop, so he didn't want to do it. That's how I ended up in that studio for a while and got to pay for a real sampler, an MPC."
Herren, who now lives in Barcelona, has just released a new Prefuse 73 CD, One Word Extinguisher, which, as he says in the liner notes, was entirely recorded with an MPC. Though more cluttered and impatient than his first CD (it has 23 tracks packed into 60 minutes), there are certain tracks on One Word Extinguisher that transcend anything he has ever done--even as Delarosa and Asora, whose CDs contain his more involved and melodic experiments with electronic noises and vibrations. The 16th track on One Word, "Perverted Undertone," seems, like the last track on Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives, to celebrate the power of the hiphop machine. In this song, a whole orchestra comes to artificial life, like that of the luminous Japanese pop star in William Gibson's Idoru. The phantom orchestra in this track is driven toward oblivion by a bass line that is not so much a sound produced by an actual instrument but a pure energy, a force that is generated by the circuits and chips within the plastic shell of an MPC2000XL.