Swarm and Dither


    Dude, Keith Whitman dominates a Powerbook. And so alter ego Hrvatski was yanked from his laptop womb, screaming relentlessly at the sight of pristine studio floors layered in luminous fluorescence. Breakbeat confusion and slow drone swamp Swarm and Dither, a difficult trek guided by the sturdy hand of a supergenius.


    “Vatstep DSP” lights like drum-roll dub madness topped by cheeky computer-voice shoutouts to fellow glitch prankster / remix victim Kid606. This one-joke vocal cries out how the girls love their “gabbercore,” which just may be the anxious offspring of “blip-hop” and “drill ‘n’ bass.” Nonsensical genre names aside, Whitman’s skill in manipulating beats sits unmatched. He twists fast breaks into evolving patterns of relative calm and absolute bedlam. This is no haphazard construction, however, and the fills are impressive not only for their sheer speed but also for their absolute refusal to stay still. Whenever Hrvatski seems to have laid down a “groove,” he abruptly shifts the pattern before listeners become too familiar with given loop, thereby responding to the common complaint that “electric” music runs too repetitious.

    Whitman reimagines the Jagger/Richards standard “Paint it Black” as a math prog parable, recognizable only by the bass line and the verse’s alien vocal calls. It survives a close collision with the tedious post-rock spectre to emerge defiantly intact. And the styles change completely from one track to the next. “2nd Zero Fidelity (Mandible Investigation),” the harshest acidic breakbeat in the land, stampedes into a crowd of whistling dwarves before passing on into feedback torrents.

    After the intense Nintendo pops of “Marbles,” “Echoes” is his piano ode to Chicago drone specialist Steve Reich, dissonant tinkles serving as uneasy percussion. From here he slams into concrete rock form on “Ewc4,” with distorted guitars and simulated drum decks reeking of the mock monster hardcore (presented for lack of a more appropriate metaphor.) But by the end of this track, Swarm and Dither completes it’s major transition theme, from unbearably stupifying noise to glacial contemplation pools in the vein of Whitman playing his comatose guitar slowly enough to induce virtual intoxication. Such agility in navigating frightening audio extremes only flavors the work more unpredictably. As Whitman would like it, there will be no dancing to Hrvatski, save for that twitch brought on by convulsive seizure.

    Where Playthroughs was a meditation on monotone, this collection’s a pre-Ritalin mood swing. Though the music is endlessly evolving, unity on Swarm and Dither is not quite equal to that of his ambient wonder. When its laptop complexity subsides, an ensuing relief from the tinny screech, which threatens to overrun some of these tracks, is completely understandable. The mass of treble-heavy digital sludge opening the record is tremendous in scale but difficult to endure — manual adjustment of denoted volume knob may be required. Whitman works to earn your admiration over time after some jarring introductions, but the album is too severe for many of the uninitiated or the merely curious. Some might even feel it slink toward inevitability in its randomness, but curtain call “Tegenborg,” which is “entirely based around ‘Waltz from Tegenborg’ … by the Swedish psych-rock monsters … (Trees, Grass, and Stones)…” flies like spiteful mud in their eyes. Fuck convention!

    – October 2002

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