Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan Reworks Laurie Spiegel's Proto-Techno 'Drums'


by Philip Sherburne
Jeremy Greenspan / Photo courtesy Backroom Entertainment
Jeremy Greenspan / Photo courtesy Backroom Entertainment

Computer-music pioneer's 1975 composition gets collaborative update for 2013 dance floors

One of the most heartening developments in electronic music last year was the re-discovery of the pioneering computer musician Laurie Spiegel. Her 1980 album The Expanding Universe received a long-overdue reissue, including a second disc's worth of rarities and unreleased music,  plus her 1972 composition "Sediment" even made it onto the soundtrack of The Hunger Games. Interviews with Spiegel in Wired, Frieze and Slate revealed Spiegel as a technologist with a yen for transcendence — or perhaps a transcendentalist with a jones for code and circuitry — and helped restore her to rightful prominence in the avant-garde canon. Now Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan is sneaking Spiegel's work onto the dance floor with a new single on Dan Snaith's Jiaolong label.

"Drums&Drums&Drums" is based on "Drums," a 1975 composition by Spiegel that sounds, in retrospect, like the world's very first minimal techno track. (Given the date, it probably is, even though it's unlikely that many producers would have heard the piece when minimal techno started taking shape in the early 1990s; "Drums" is simply one of those rare examples of music that's so far ahead of its time it might as well have been beamed to earth from another dimension.) But Greenspan's version of the track isn't your typical re-edit, in which beats are nudged and phrases are looped in order to make the DJ's job easier. Instead, Greenspan's rework, which is credited as a collaboration with Spiegel, engages with the composer's work on a procedural level.

In his notes accompanying the single, Greenspan explains: "It is tricky to work with something you love, and which is in itself already perfectly complete. This track is credited to both myself and Laurie Spiegel, not only because I received her generous blessing and input, but also because I felt as though I was attempting not simply to re-edit or even remix the piece, but rather to play off of it: to use it as a guide to exploring some different musical possibilities, and to collaborate with the original. In many ways I didn't write anything, but simply played back 'Drums' on my computer, using its tempo and rhythms to trigger an almost arbitrary chain of synthesizers, both new and old. I then fed Spiegel's original piece into my indispensable Eventide H3000 Ultra-Harmonizer (a piece of equipment that I use constantly and was, unbeknownst to me, beta tested by Spiegel in the 1980s). My job was simply to select the moments I thought worked and disregard the excess."

The result is a study in musical metamorphosis. It begins with an unadulterated fragment of Spiegel's original, a delicate thrum of synthetic drum sounds haloed in glassy overtones. As a rudimentary techno rhythm creeps into the mix, Spiegel's crystalline toms gradually shift in tone and timbre; it's as though their stored-up energy has been converted into great, wet splotches of melody, like fresh sap wrung from a slice of petrified wood.

"Drums&Drums&Drums" comes out digitally and as 12-inch vinyl sometime this month — "In the next week or 10 days, I reckon," says Snaith — and is backed by Greenspan's "Sirius Shake." Listen to both tracks here.

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