(Stilll; 2007)

By Conrad Amenta | 10 April 2007

German composer and found-sound artist Daniel Vujanic, toting a vague collective of one-time contributors/bandmates, has garnered numerous comparisons to the Books. That's apt--and, where style is concerned, reasonable enough given Maps/Systemalheur's gentle acoustic and vocal snippets--though the deconstruction at work here on Baja's debut is taken (or perhaps regressed) exponentially further. Instead of the Books' subtle and playful (and, I should add, fast growing old) subversions of language that contrast words' referents with the context in which language appears, Baja captures what sounds like thought on the edge of speech intentionally precluded and restricted to its infant stages. This leaves us with emotion unimpeded by the tyranny of language's imposition of strict meaning. Depeche Mode said on their "Enjoy the Silence" (from 1990's Violator) that "words" were "like violence" that "break the silence." Baja assumes as much without the hypocrisy of stating that that's the case: "Words are very unnecessary / They can only do harm."

The album is divided into the two sides suggested by the title: though the latter tends to more cohesive -- or at least mellifluous and pleasant--arrangements, both subscribe to the same overarching anti-linear deviations despite how rarely there is even a core to deviate from. For example, "Droma Waves (For History's Aroma)" (and what a thing to write a song for) officially kicks off the second half; while its last three minutes come closest to proving stylistic comparisons with the Books carry water the song is as cut-and-paste as anything from the album's first half. It's all a part of the album's tendency to make of its unnecessary separations and borders a defining aesthetic. Throughout, one track can run in excess of twelve minutes while the next can be only fifteen or thirty seconds, arbitrary brackets given how each song can then be further and further subdivided almost at random without a consistency of mood or tempo or a reoccurrence of sounds.

Vujanic also, cheekily, plays on expectations with regards to the album's outermost borders, a move probably obvious given that he takes any and every opportunity to subvert traditional song structure everywhere else. Opening track "Maps (Fake Starts and Fake Alarms)" is eleven and-a-half minutes of maddening silences, clicking, buzzes and then sporadic outbursts of musicality. The album ends with "A-one, two, a-one-two-three-four" count-in to nothing, one of its few (and thankfully fleeting) instances where it resorts to pure novelty and doesn't focus instead on locating intrinsic musicality in the spaces between dominant songwriting forms.

Which isn't to say that belligerence is the album's principal feature; Vujanic is no dickish Criss Angel tricking his mother into thinking the bloody deconstruction taking place before her is actually his body in a wood chipper only to smugly appear at the end, messiah-like, to revel in a superiority which only exists on his own terms. The deconstruction taking place meets us in the middle: "Anatomy and Variation" is gorgeous, guitar-based chill-out, and the stunning "Realphabetizations" and "Nona's Theme" are more traditional (read: easier) rewards, hidden in the album's last third for those with the attention span to treat the album like the complex and wordless discussion it evokes. Still, Maps/Systemalheur doesn't rely on groove-based electronic production; it resembles free-jazz interspersed in minimalist pastiche and insistent polyphony. Even its track titles, many of which stubbornly refuse to remain static, append bracketed subtexts or are strangely absent of content where one might expect the solidity of statement to qualify Baja's nebulous experiments. The album itself is dichotomized and split, its title (the first "statement" anyone will read after the band's name) announcing the multidirectional music therein; this is unlike, say, Matmos, who subscribe to the same methodological bricolage as their underlying songwriting tool but also attached a thesis to The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast (2006), which limited the album to a predetermined political direction while simultaneously transforming music that was otherwise located in the gut and the hips into a semi-exclusive intellectual exercise.

It's not that Maps/Systemalheur resists being brainy. It's just that the intellectualism at work in Baja's music is located in the listening, detected in the way it emotes intelligently rather than intelligently references emotion. By making process and reward one in the same, mirroring the obstinacy and arbitrary nature of human emotions, Vujanic is using electronic music in a way that makes it less a statement about media or a contemporary discussion about subverting conventional songwriting than a tool of matter-of-factness; Vujanic is a Apollonian fully aware of the necessity of his Dionesian counterpart, returning us to a more fundamental discussion about how words may never encapsulate what it is we want to say, or how music makes us feel.