Distance is Relative

TLM Presents…Vol.2: To Be Discontinued

Thirsty Leaves Music’s new compilation TLM Presents. . .Vol.2: To Be Discontinued makes for invigorating listening. Although most tracks incline towards ambient electronica, there’s enough rhythmic grit to distinguish them from soundscapes that refuse to provide a foreground.

Looks like Europe. The view from Switzerland.

Moody Alien, who runs the label out of Thessaloniki, takes us on a journey, from the street noise and snippets of Soviet broadcasting in American Bill Stevens’ dense opening track through the self-reflexively elegiac vibe of Xu and Oberlin’s closing number “Rain Drizzling Down on Thirsty Leaves”. 

In between, the harder edges of Hagai Izenberg’s “Hypothetical Moon #5”, brekekekexkoaxkoax’s “Povosoro”, and Alien’s own “For.Der.031” provide plenty of dramatic tension, like rapids on a river that require travellers to make a difficult portage.

In the digital liner notes for To Be Discontinued, Alien calls it “a VA compilation that didn’t want to be ‘a VA compilation’”. 

Artists from around Europe and beyond responded to a call for submissions that specified “no genre, theme, or other criteria”. But when it came to selecting tracks and sequencing them, Alien counterposed this randomness with a clear sense of how he wanted the album to be experienced. 

That’s an underrated talent, especially in an era when we are being inundated with automated curation.

We have been trained to think of technology as prosthetic, compensating for what human beings lack. But To Be Discontinued turns that formulation around. 

Although the algorithms on streaming platforms are endlessly sorting music into playlists for us, from collections of massive global hits to more specific ones, like Greek Dark Wave or Korean Hip-Hop, they struggle to comply with more abstract directives. 

That’s when human beings take on a prosthetic function, taking advantage of what technology makes possible but going beyond its conceptual scope.

If neural networks were tasked with making decisions about which tracks to include on a compilation like this and how to arrange them, they would need to be carefully trained. Even then, it would be hard for the finished product to feel coherent or have that hard-to-define quality that Alien calls “flow”.  

As the AI-crafted music and art that is all the rage right now demonstrates, awkward juxtapositions may produce exciting montage effects but are unlikely to make a record that improves when it is heard as a whole, from start to finish, however aleatory its provenance.

For that, you need the native aesthetic impulses that distinguish human beings as a species, even if they only manifest themselves in small ways, like the patterns in a woven garment. 

Moody Alien explains that he based To Be Discontinued on “the notion that a collage can have many of the qualities of a preconceived work and sometimes even avoid some of its shortcomings”.

The reason this improvisational approach to curating works so well, however, is that he undertook it in a distinctly human way. 

Alien selected tracks that feel intimately related, despite the geographic and experiential distance between their creators. And he clearly did so with a mind to conjure community across imposing divides. This is a post-national record if there ever was one.

As is the case for most good compilations, To Be Discontinued opens the door to a world with a distinct logic of its own. It might be a small world devoid of many things music lovers have come to expect. But that strangeness makes it more compelling. 

German contributor Oberlin’s album Übersee Revisited LP came out at the same time as To Be Discontinued and features four of its participants, including Moody Alien himself. 

The Italian artist Xu’s 2022 album, Something More Beautiful Than Perfection, made with a monophonic analog synthesizer, provides more of the eccentrically soothing tones found in “Rain Drizzling Down on Thirsty Leaves”.  

A look at Israeli Hagai Izenberg’s other work turns up his contribution to Bloody Lines vol. ii, a trans-national compilation of Middle Eastern electronic music that is filled with beauty and sadness. 

The farther this kind of research goes, the more apparent it becomes that the most important function of compilations like To Be Discontinued is to bring artists together, not with the impersonal set theory of algorithms, but according to their shared investment in producing a truly alternative culture.

Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit. All rights reserved.