New Jersey Laptop Orchestra

the willingness to be touchedThe New Jersey Laptop Orchestra’s first CD is called The Willingness to be Touched, which is also the title of the second track. And seriously, look at that album cover–that picture with those words? Who could resist? I’ve heard several laptop ensembles over the past six years, one in Ulm that was supposedly playing Luc Ferrari, one in Paris (GOL) that was tremendous. And many more that were all surprisingly tedious. So I was a bit apprehensive about accepting the New Jersey Laptop Orchestra’s invitation to send me a CD to review. Fortunately, it’s great, good fun. It is messy and exuberant and exciting. It sounds exactly like what it says it is, a bunch of college students playing laptops.

But it’s not the aimless and tedious plinking of a bunch of people who have nothing better to do (my impression of other laptop ensembles I’ve heard, the ones not called GOL or NJLO). Not at all. This is the chaotic and high-powered music making of a Cage happening or of Crawling With Tarts or My Cat Is An Alien. Well, perhaps that praise is a little too high, but still, this is very satisfying music-making by people who know what they’re doing and who do it fearlessly.

There’s a fairly wide stylistic range in this CD, not surprising, given the technology used. As with musique concrète, whose tropes are being rediscovered and reused, laptops allow and perhaps even encourage putting anything together with anything else. So it is in this disc, with bits and pieces of all sorts of musics–even a tiny wisp of country/western, I’m sure of it!–along with speech and electronic noises and all the rest.

Also, as with musique concrète and synthesizer and Kyma and symphony orchestra and piano and any other machines, the machine encourages certain kinds of behavior. For my tastes, there was a little too much of the loop in this. (But I thought that of Yoshihide and Sachiko M’s Warhol Memory Disorder, too, and no one’s going to think of those two as anything but giants of new music.) And too much of the drum machine. But those are personal quibbles. Someone else might find those things the best part of the disc.

In any case, there’s a lot of variety from cut to cut, some like turntablism, some like music concrète, some like Crawling With Tarts, some like mashups, some like old-fashioned jazz or rock jams. The clip is from track 9, “Mistah Cage Struts,” which along with track 10 uses sound bites from the 1960 performance of Water Walk on “I’ve Got a Secret.” (If you haven’t seen that, yet, by the way, you’re in for a real treat. You might want to watch that before you listen to this clip, or at least before you listen to this album, which I would recommend you do!

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