The Freight Elevator Quartet - "Jungle Album"
By Rat Bastard
I think I first heard of The Freight
Elevator Quartet a couple years ago. But I'm not sure. It was in one of those
miscellaneous conversations that you remember from years gone by that kind of
blend into each other. Either I was involved in a conversation about music and
someone brought up FE4, or we somehow segued from lifting devices to
symphonies. I can, however, distinctly remember the first time I heard their
music. T'was during a recent review I wrote on a compilation from Kyan Records
called Praying For Something New. On this compilation FE4 had two songs,
Pomoerotic (which is playing as I write this) and Gilgamesh. I
enjoyed them both and said that I'd be checking them out in the future - which
I did. And here we are.
FE4 formed in 1996 at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic
Music Center (now the Columbia University Computer Music Center). The mind of
FE4 is made up of R. Luke DuBois, Paul Feuer, Rachael Finn and Stephen Krieger.
While they had a debut release in 1997 that contained live cuts from their
Knuckles (NYC) and other performances, 1998's Jungle Album is their first
studio attempt. FE4 really, really get into their music. From
oversampling guitars to creating their own sound manipulation software for use
in their music, they put together a unique and chaotic sound that combines
analog and contemporary instruments with computerization and technology. FE4's
latest is their File Under Futurism project, a concept that has come to
light via the work of FE4 and concept-creator DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid. If
you want a slight taste without diving into the whole album, the nominal track
of the DJ Spooky vs. FE4 collaboration has been released on This Is Jungle
Sky Vol VI - Funk from Liquid Sky Music (http://www.LiquidSkyMusic.com).
FE4 combine elements of symphonic instruments (strings
& wind) with computeresque samples, bleeps, blips and other weirdness. They
achieve an ambient/ethereal sound imbued with chaotic energy, complicated
rhythms and ethereal qualities. Sigue Sigue Sputnik meets the NY Symphony.
Throughout Jungle Album they tend to either an ethereal, slow side or a
beat-driven and rhythmically complex sound. I prefer their latter work as it's
their most interesting arrangements. Their slower pieces are more sample-driven
with Art of Noise style sliding beeps and frequency-changing computer noise.
But it lacks the oomph that Art of Noise and others of this ilk had - but when
FE4 start banging their beats, that's when things get fun.
There are a total of 18 tracks on Jungle Album - just
over an hour and a quarter of music. They kick it off with intro, which
is interestingly done sample-play taking a looped voice and flipping it five
ways from the middle into as many different combinations and sounds as they
could. Following this is one of my favorites on the album, infrared.
This is a perfect example of what FE4 strive for in their attempts at combining
technological sounds with symphonic music. The cello takes a front position in
this mix and the beats are more pulse-ridden than bang-sounding. A tiny guitar
hides away in the corner plucking away high notes to add to the mix and the
rhythm gets extremely complicated utilizing not just bass and drum but other
scratches and sounds as rhythm keepers as well. Track five, proletarian
beta, is also a powerful song with more synthesized sounds than most. The
beats become more bang-like here with exaggerated and unexpected breakdowns. A
very complicated piece.
There is a lot of surprises throughout Jungle
Album as well. Track 12, welcome to the next world, opens and closes
with samples of Steve Jobs' speech about MACs. The track itself is more
ethereal than their more rhythmically pulsing songs. Near the center of the
album the slower moody ambience quality of FE4 sets in. I find it dragging a
bit around the mid-point, but again it picks up into the complicated beats that
originally drew me to their music. Track 15, this is what happens, is a
purely beautiful piece. A lady by the name of Mary Kim provides fleeting vocals
for the track while the rhythm is a rolling sound that spreads around it like
they stretched time. The last track I'm going to mention in detail is
pomoerotic. I'll quote from my review of Praying For Something
New here. "The drums are everywhere, hitting everything, and the bass has a
grinding, guttural sound. This is a near-instrumental track with diva-style
female utterings that make up all that is vocal about Pomoerotic. It's
an interesting arrangement - lively, somehow sexually tense and rapid moving."
The Freight Elevator Quartet has come quite a ways and their
music spans generations of culture and technology. Strings, wind, drums and
computers come together to form a unique sound - and it is the rhythm quality
of Jungle Album that not only gives the album its name, but provides it
with what it needs to stand alone and apart from other soundscape creators. I'm
not all that enamored of FE4's more ethereal & slower tracks here. Instead
I think they shine with the complication they are able to put into their fast
moving, stomp-inducing tracks instead. The drums are everywhere, hitting
even you. Music is around us always, floating in the air. But
it's not very often when the music strikes you, almost physically - so if
you'll excuse me I'm going to go and revel in it.