We’ve come to love texture in our electronic music. It may be the single thing that best defines the genre presently. Found sounds and other grainy flourishes have helped make electronic music a meaningful reflection of what it’s like to live in a 21st century world. Better than any other artform, it portrays our ambivalence toward technology. If a pure synth line represents the potential of tech, then the addition of static, degraded samples and other glitch elements represents the unintended consequences of a digital world.
We didn’t always understand the downside potential of what we used to call new media.
These two reissued albums by Throbbing Gristle icon Chris Carter capture that time precisely. Electronic Ambient Remixes One and Electronic Ambient Remixes Three, first released in 2000 and 2002 respectively, speak to the hopefulness we shared in those days about the potential of technology to make our lives better. Not a new idea, obviously, but one that gathered a different kind of steam in the 1990s with the commercialization of the internet and digital tech more generally.
Remixes One is based on sound experiments Carter tape recorded, mostly in the 1970s. You can find them on his 1980 release The Space Between. Working from that source material, Carter pulled together more than 20 years of contemporary music ideas. Remixes Three came two years later. (There is no Remixes Two.) On that one, Carter turned a series of Throbbing Gristle rhythms into three-dimensional loops and paired them with dark ambient synth lines. The two albums are among the great ambient releases of the time.
At their heart, is Carter’s belief that he could take his early experiments and turn them into something even more exciting and listenable. That confidence – in both himself and the technology – produced a pair of albums that were resolutely modern. There is no ambivalence in these recordings, about electronic music or the digital world it was emblematic of.
In retrospect, Carter documented what may have been electronic music’s peak. That moment when the genre’s early experimenters, having inspired a generation of avant-garde- and pop-music makers, had legitimized the artform and made mass appeal possible. In the years that followed, as the broader societal implications of our new digital world began to settle in, we came to question our enthusiasm. Today’s electronic music producers reflect that in their more complex, textured (i.e. glitchy) compositions.
It is not that either of these albums sound dated. They still stand tall. But their significance is greater than that. Carter, like his contemporaries in the 1970s and 1980s, helped lay a foundation that continues to support today’s avant-garde music. These two albums – out on vinyl for the first time and back on CD after more than 15 years – are best appreciated as a reflection of a moment in history when there was an almost unbridled belief in new media’s capacity to make the world a better place.