© Jester Records 2004
The Last Sahini
Fly vs. Spider
Music like this requires a watchmaker’s attention to detail, capturing, taming and framing an infinity of digital fragments, pinning each into its allotted space on the sequencer’s remorseless timeline. Perhaps it’s because Ruud is so focused on the minutiae of his music that the bigger picture creeps up unnoticed — shadowy, inchoate emotions that loom, ghostlike, between and beyond the meticulous precision of the beats.
The Milk Factory
With his debut, self-titled, album, released over two years ago, Upland investigated an interesting range of intricate electronic soundscapes wrapped around sparse melodies, depicting stunning rarefied abstract territories. Two years on, Oslo-based Knut Ruud returns with an equally short and complex record.
Evolving in the vicinity of post-industrial techno Autechre or Freeform, Ruud assembles miniature mechanical structures with precision, and then purposely interferes with his creations by throwing spanners in the works just to see what it does. Simple, yet effective, in his case. Very much like the aforementioned Autechre, Upland achieves abstraction not as a mean, but as a step to help him explore further. And if his first album could at times appear rather desolate and bare, Obliterated is, on the contrary, like a constant luxuriant explosion of sonic particles, forming a very coherent whole by the time the listener reaches its end. Keeping things to a minimum, Ruud manages to go just over the half hour mark, yet feels his defined space with dense moments, rising to the challenge time and time again. Space, filled or intentionally left empty, is the substance at the heart of these fragile assemblages. A recurring theme in his work, it serves the purpose of giving extra dimensional structure to his compositions, bringing them together under the same stylistic umbrella, yet allowing for something totally unique to happen with each new piece. Neither boring nor predictable, Obliterated is pure delight.
Unlike most Nordic musicians, Ruud doesn’t rely so much on his natural environment to provide him with either sounds or atmospheres. His sonic explorations have more to do with the obsessive effervescence of an agitated mind in search of introverted emotions than cinematic landscapes and exhibited passions. Ruud digs deep into his subconscious to extract the most human of music. Because the music of Upland is, above all, truly human, and the voices caught up amidst the relentless rhythmic machinery of Chi remind that, behind all this sonic subterfuges, pulling the strings, is Knut Ruud.
Obliterated consolidates the sonic ground Knut Ruud began to establish with his first album. This new offering is, reassuringly, more of a convincing progression than a change of direction. In fact, it feels as if Ruud is more determined to get deep into the heart of the complex structures he builds, acting with more maturity.
Right from the opening 00.00.00 the listener is subjected to a brutal attack of mechanical beats consisting of heavily distorted, erratic clicks and explosions, not unlike sounds we’ve heard from Autechre, Venetian Snares and mainly Ein’ma, Upland’s closest sonic relative. However, Upland’s convincing sleight of hand, inserting minor shifts in emphasis within the beats, exchanging spastically fast hundred-hand-slaps for stately rigid funk, has you inquisitively finding an internal logic to every loop. Two people will decipher the madness in entirely different ways, enjoying far separate interpretations of the rhythms. This isn’t some academic exercise however; there remains throughout an intensity that never falls into pointlessly complex onanism. It’s pretty rocking, quite frankly…
Delusions of Adequacy
I’m not going to pretend to be particularly knowledgeable about the electronic music scene. With the exception of only a couple acts and a few Internet radio stations that play trance, I’m completely in the dark. I don’t mean to give the impression that I don’t enjoy electronic music; I just tend to find it suits my needs better as background music. That having been said, enduring Upland’s sophomore release Obliterated was quite an eye-opening experience. Not content to be relegated to background music status, Upland instead opts for some of, if not the most, obtrusive music I’ve ever encountered.
How one could even begin to accurately describe Obliterated is beyond my reckoning. I entertained the thought of using outlandish phraces like ‘a robot zombie parade’ or better yet ‘R2D2 packed full of ball bearings and hurtling wildly down a spiral staircase’ to describe what I was hearing, yet even those scenarios fall short of describing the half hour of apparent chaos captured here. After all, its often difficult if not impossible to find a discernable beat, and the clicks, buzzes, and beeps seem to follow a structure known only to the artist.
Regardless of how unnatural and discomforting each subsequent song was, I felt compelled to perservere. Perhaps out of sheer morbid curiosity, I willingly experienced this collection of strangled noise, gagged, bound, and tightly crammed into each track. Needless to say to those who’ve listened to it, there is a heavy darkness at play in Obliterated. The vast majority of the album would make a fitting score to your worst cyberpunk nightmare. For example, the third track on the album, ‘Heatrate,’ is genuinely unnerving. It features horror film aesthetics and brings about a strong feeling of creeping paranoia. The following track, ‘Stutter+hold,’ is equally unsettling. While less pronounced, the suffocating claustrophobic tension found here does the trick just fine. In contrast, the closing track ‘Chi’ is easily the most accessible track found here, complete with a recognizable rhythm; staying true to the albums creepy theme, there are also many oddly disjointed keyboard segments.
While the electronic world so is rife with ambiguity that a vast majority of the artists are interchangeable, Upland has taken a swift and sharp turn against the grain, and for that I must tip my hat. Obliterated was an entirely alien experience for me, and while not an easy listening experience by any stretch of the imagination it was indeed wholly worthwhile. While I can’t exactly foresee an occasion in which this album would be appropriate for further listens, I will surely construct one. I must strongly urge anyone interested in being part of a completely mind bending aural experience to seek out Upland’s Obliterated.
Obliterated starts off with mind-bending pulses of bass and enough scattered clicks and beats to exhilarate most IDMers. Upland (Knut Andreas Ruud) ups the complexity on this follow-up to his self-titled debut. ‘The Last Sahini’ sounds like an Aphex Twin tribute with noisy drill and bass and diced samples. ‘Fly vs. Spider’ is almost clinical in its computational complexity, with plenty of machine noises and just a hint of human melody. ‘Field Interface’ and ‘Chi’ are my favorite tracks, sounding a bit like Chiastic-era Autechre with crunchy beats and dark but beautiful melodies. While it’s no coincidence that Ruud wrote the alt.music.autechre FAQ a few years ago, his music is more than the sum of its influences. This album stays consistently good, with genuinely enjoyable tracks. Upland proves that even the most complicated, artificial sounds can have heart.
The second disc from Upland is a continuation of Knut Andreas Ruud’s obsessive search for the perfectly fucked beat. Upland’s sound combines classic drum ‘n bass, glitch electronica, noise, and a talent for turning sound inside out. This the sound of techno trying to eat itself. Beats percolate over a bed of chaotic sound and stuttering glitch rhythms like a synchronized ballet of skipping cds, torched electronics, and mechanical alien robots zooming across the autobahn in disintegrating hovercars. Electronica has always been fixated on science fiction and the future for obvious reasons, but rarely are the concepts so elegantly articulated as on this disc. This is dance music for burned-out robot workers after a long day assembling weapons at the nuke factory; this is how they all sound on the dance floor clanging off one another after a few too many ion slingers. This is the sound coursing through the circuits of Cruise missiles as they scream through the sky in search of new and exciting civilizations to turn into smoking atomic rubble. The soul of the machine not only isn’t as empty as you thought, it’s actively planning to kill you in your sleep so you can’t turn it off again. Churning, anonymous metal machine music for all the young robots — the ritual is alive and it’s going to fry you with a few million volts if you reach for the wrong switch. You better hope the clueless government technicians watching the missile silos never make the mistake of playing this while testing the launch codes.
So I discovered this album a while back after surfing the pages of the infamous Jester Records website. I listened to a sample and decided it would soon be mine, and thusly my quest began. I rambled off on a righteous crusade across the globe in search of this legendary piece of artistic mastery, because they don’t sell good music where I come from, and in truth I was just itching for a good excuse to go on a crusade’ Several raped and pillaged villages later, I finally reached my goal and acquired this precious artifact of electronic insanity, and it promptly blew out two of my car stereo speakers. Needless to say I was raging pissed, but unfortunately I was far too exhausted from my previous crusade to go on another killing spree at that moment. So instead, I just wrote an angry email expressing my great displeasure and contempt for the person who had caused this to happen to me (because I’ll be damned if I take responsibility for my own actions!), Knut Ruud’ a.k.a. Upland.
And you know what, that bastard had the nerve to fucken APOLOGIZE to me. What a smug prick’
Actually all of that is bullshit’ Well, except for the speakers and the email thing, but that was all in good fun, as Knut was actually extra polite and very cool in our email correspondence. The TRUTH, however, although not nearly as legendary and mighty, is pretty sweet as well. Why? Because this album KICKS ASS! Keep in mind that I freakin’ love electronic music, especially the really glitchy, distorted, generally fucked-up-beyond-all-comprehension kind. If you don’t like that kind of stuff then you should just stop reading this review right now, because your opinion is obviously distorted by untruths about the nature of electronica.
From beginning to end, ‘Obliterated’ is a near-perfect balance of glitchy, mathematical ‘pull your hair out’ mindblowing madness, offset with just the right amount of groove and funk to keep your head bobbing (at least in the places where you can actually tell what the tempo of the song is). At time it grooves with all the acid jazz/trip hop greats like Amon Tobin and Squarepusher, and at times gets to the point where it’s so broken down and fucked up that I can’t even begin to think of a good reference because my brain is too busy imploding. Yet despite all this madness amidst the subtle clickity-clack of someone with way too much time to program layered drum beats into his computer, the album also conveys a very natural, almost organic feel at times. One would expect that live instrumentation was involved, but from what I understand from what I have read, and my email correspondence with the man himself, it seems that this is almost 100% electronically synthesized noise. Anyone who can pull that off and not make it sound like some lame boring dance/trance/techno/house (or whatever other shit is regularly played at gay-bars) deserves a gold star on his report card in my book.
My favorite songs have to be ‘00.00.00’, ‘Heartrate’ and ‘Field Interference’ Each of them is a fucken perfect balance of insanity and rhythm. And what makes them better is that there are so many subtle noises and pitch-shifts that it seems like every time I listen to it I hear something new. Other tracks, such as ‘Fly vs. Spider’ and ‘Noend’, completely forsake rhythm in exchange for mathematically precise madness that makes me feel like someone is pushing needles into my brain and wiggling them around wildly. Mmmmm’ it’s hard to decide which I like better’ (because I’m fucken wierd like that, cut me some slack).
It’s distorted, broken down and damn near seizure-inducing, but still groovy enough to cause one’s head to bob and foot to tap. If you are a fan of electronic music, this should be most pleasing to you. If you have been dissapointed with the genre of electronica thus far, perhaps this would be a good album to convince you otherwise. If you don’t like electronic music, you are wrong, but should still buy this album anyways.