007 :: SOUND

Listen to "007 :: SOUND" on Spreaker.


Sound Ancestors by Madlib, arranged by Four Tet, released by Madlib Invazion in 2021. Listen / Buy direct


What's the point of music? What's a musician striving to do? The simplest answer, which holds true much of the time, is that music is about the expression and conveyance of emotion, the translation of private, ineffable feelings into a public, sonic medium where others can feel them too. But this is not all that music can be. Sometimes, music is just about revelling in the joy of sound. Sometimes, the medium is not a means but an end. Sometimes, all the musician wants is for us to listen, to hear what they hear, and to be, like them, enthralled.

Listen to the crunchiness of that bassline, the crispness of those snare hits, the tenacity of this groove. And now listen to something completely different: the steady jingle of the bells, the synocopation of the bass and the kick drum, the soulful crooning in the background, that funky harp-like arpeggio. There's just so much to love here on a purely sonic level, and that's precisely the point.

Now is probably a good time to point out, for those who don't realize, that the musician behind this record is a DJ, and that this music is an assemblage of samples — bits of sound that caught the artist's attention, fitted together so as to catch ours. In other words, before this music could exist it had to be discovered, and much of its excitement lies in simply hearing everything the artist has found. Because the artist here is a master listener, and what we're being treated to is a performance by someone who hears the world better than we do — who looks where we wouldn't think to look, notices what might escape our notice, and can bring all these sounds into focus so that we can perceive them too.

In this way, the DJ reminds me of a photographer, walking the streets, camera slung around their neck, ever on the lookout for that decisive moment, where there is, however briefly, something uncommon and marvelous to see. A photograph, if it's a good one, brings the world into view, capturing, yes, what was already there, but in such a way that it becomes more potent, more pregnant, more visible. In photography we are able to glimpse the world through the photographer's discerning eye, and thus learn better how to look, just as in this music we are able to hear the world through the DJ's discerning ear, and thus learn better how to listen.

But actually, it is not only the DJ's discerning ear that is here on display. For this record is in fact the work of two musicians, one acting as DJ and the other as producer, or, as I prefer to think of it, one acting as artist and the other as curator. What we're hearing, more precisely, is one DJ listening to another and honing the other's vision, magnifying what's best and intensifying what's most powerful in their music. Through this, what might've been a mere collection of first-rate photographs is transformed into an first-rate exhibition, which shows us not only how to listen to the world but also how to listen to this music.

And like any good exhibition, this record is more than the sum of its parts. As gemlike as each track is on its own, there's a special brilliance that appears when we hear them all together, as we notice the eclectic range of soundscapes and the ecumenical use of genre across the record. We start to see that behind this music is an expansive and capacious sensibility, so devoted to sound itself that it recognizes none of our conventional boundaries. And we begin to appreciate that this music is asking us to share its vision: to broaden our own sensibilities, to turn away from nothing, and to possess, like it, a universal love of sound.

Liner Notes

There's been a lot of good writing on this record since its release, but I learned the most from this excellent piece by Piotr Orlov for NPR Music.