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The Twilight Drone

Fringe music enters pop as pop pleasures come from fringe music

White Rainbow: lord of the trance.

By Michael Byrne | Posted 7/29/2009

White Rainbow

Sonar, July 31

Popular public taste is a stew. If music fads used to come on like seasons--dictated by broad, near-comprehensive shifts between things such as "grunge" or "indie-rock"--now, it's snowing and raining on the same day dead leaves are falling onto fresh sprouts. So much of this has to do with the speed of the internet, of course--Pitchfork and tastemakers-by-design like Hype Machine churn, quickly, the underground to the surface, and its oddities, things that in the pre-internet world would have been all lumped together into a broad "experimental music."

Now, you have projects like White Rainbow moving out of galleries and warehouses into a wider orbit--say, the main stage at Sonar. But it's not enough to chalk this progression up to flow of information; some music is just difficult to process no matter how many people are telling you to listen. No, there is at the same time a shift in left-field music toward the center. Casual listeners are being met halfway. Look at Deerhunter, for example, soaking bright, warm pop in baths of humming drone, or Dan Deacon's expansive, freeform compositions of the bubbliest sort of electronic pop--complete with sine waves, homemade gadgets, and a 15-person orchestra. Not to say that they're all gone by any means, but artists like this used to try and be difficult--Deerhunter debuted in 2004 with an album titled Turn It Up Faggot.

White Rainbow, a scruffy young man named Adam Forkner that used to play as VVRSSSNN, represents an odd and instructive place in that center, making improvised drone music of the warmth and basic human-ness that doesn't even exist anymore in straight-up pop or rock music, if it ever did. And, of all of the left-field genres, "drone" presents itself as nearly the opposite--cold, monolithic, something to be studied less than music just to dig.

Forkner's music as White Rainbow comes off as drone that isn't calculated or overly studied. "More and more I feel like I am free to make whatever I want, as opposed to always thinking about what others expect from me," Forkner writes in an e-mail interview. "I'm making dub and hip-hop beats and noise and New Age and rip guitar solos for friends' pop bands and lots of silly stuff and I'm less afraid of looking uncool in doing so."

After debuting in 2005 with the mini-album ZOME--three fragile, ethereal, and relatively structured tracks and the title track, a 20-minute gilded feather of improv ambiance--White Rainbow immediately gushed a five-disc set on Northwest indie Marriage Records and a pair or records on even smaller indies. Prism of Eternal Now, its national coming out--VVRSSNN, a K-punk band, is still well known in indie circles--appeared in 2007 on venerable Kranky Records. October will see its follow-up, New Clouds.

Prism of Eternal Now also felt a bit like a coming-out, stylistically. The songs on it are comparatively short, and at less than 10 minutes (save for one), they feel like summaries of a White Rainbow live show--typically one long improvised jam, an ultimately dense build-up of layers and loops of live hand drums, guitar, electronics, and wordless hoots and calm intonations. "I don't compose, really," Forkner writes. "I feel like I never really have. I'm an improviser at my core, so no live set will ever be a replication of something previously recorded." On a couple of tracks on Prism, smoldering guitars spiral upward from the drone, giving them an unlikely focus, and an easy gateway.

New Clouds finds him in the best of both worlds. At two hours long, the release is a double disc. Songs progress and mature, soaking deeply. "If anything, my new creative impulses are decidedly against concision," Forkner writes. "It might be seen as career suicide in this day and age of experimental artists being so applauded for making more and more concise, approachable, accessible releases, but I've sort of dropped that concern." The rub is that he is making more approachable and accessible releases, but instead of it being calculated, you get the feeling he just can't help it. This is the risk of making positive, soul-healing music--it has to be that friendly.

"Different periods of my creative output have led to different impacts," he writes. "The ambient stuff perhaps lends itself well to baths, meditation, sleep, trip-out sessions, driving. Other stuff I've done, the more rhythmic and upbeat stuff is perhaps good for other things, fun times, weird times. I guess I don't know. I just make stuff I would want in my life at that time, but I'm slightly less concerned than say, Brian Eno, when it comes to a music having to have a decided function within a person's life. I just make the music and it gets sorted out afterwards how it would fit into a listener's world."

You could put White Rainbow at the vanguard of a new New Age, music the reaches past ambient and/or drone and/or noise, a great many extremely self-conscious yet de facto genres populated by artists that seem to miss the point, into something not compromising, yet deeply populist. There is music at the end of "experimental music."

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