What's the furthest thing from noise? Silence, of course, especially the chill, ultimate stillness of the cosmos, it's endless walls running down dreams and stories until they're nothing. Eric San also used to make noise, mainly by taking pieces of black plastic and making them performers, shifting their purpose by making their structure liquid, atomised.
So after roughly twenty years of turntablism, how you wandered could the Montreal scratcher paint himself into a new backdrop. The answer ? By inversion, of course. Named after an art festival with a self-descriptive purpose, San found himself providing melodic inspiration to the gathered illustrators in the form he says of "records I enjoy drawing to, often music that was too slow or quiet to play in a dance floor situation", going on to explain "I started incorporating other instruments into the mix to create live ambient pieces during the night. A lot of these experiments would become templates for this recording."
When placed in its rightful context Music To Draw To is not on that basis then not so much of a departure as it might first appear. San's choice of collaborator is given his purpose a little less obvious in Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini, a flaxen-voiced bard who released one of last decade's most mildly disregarded hidden treasures in 2008's Me And Armini.
12 Bit Blues works a lot better than you might expect a blues album by a Canadian turntablist to work. As at least one review has already pointed out, this is partly because of the technology used in its creation. The album was created using a decidedly old-school sampler, 1987's E-mu SP-1200, which is apparently 'famed for its gritty texture and ability to simulate the "warmth" of vinyl recordings' (thanks, wikipedia), but seems remarkably restrictive by today's standard: any single sample can be no longer than 2.5 seconds. Grit and warmth are two things that early blues recordings had in spades. Just as importantly, the limitations of the technology result in a relatively raw-sounding, stripped-back album. Relative only to other Kid Koala albums, perhaps - we're not talking Leadbelly-raw - but, still.
The songs which make up 12 Bit Blues all sample old blues records; Kid Koala manipulates these samples, deepening a mournful vocal, playing around with a snatch of harmonica or piano. By doing so, he creates a groove-filled, entertaining record which is amongst his best work. His clever scratching and occasional tendency to introduce incongruous samples (such as pieces of cheesy spoken-word dialogue which plays out on '10 Bit Blues') lend the album a largely playful atmosphere. This is exemplified by '8 Bit Blues (Chicago to La to NY)', 12 Bit Blues' catchiest song, which features yelped area codes and frantic scratching. There are, though, more solemn moments, like the slow, mournful '5 Bit Blues' and '9 Bit Blues'. The latter features a notably clever use of a harmonica sample, which is cut up to create a wonderful, tremulous solo.
The mood may be inconsistent, but the quality is consistently high; there are no tracks which will have you reaching for the skip button. It's an impressive release which makes more intelligent use of blues samples than the best-known instance of an electronic musician doing so, Moby's Play. A lot of hard work must have gone into its creation, but it's never hard work to listen to; it's an album which is technically impressive, but works well as a pleasant, playful soundtrack to your day even if you have no interest in the process which led to its creation. Opening track and mission statement '1 Bit Blues (10,000 Miles)' ('youngsters today will take anything and make the blues out of it') gets it right: 'the Kid is in rare form'.
Continue reading: Kid Koala - 12 Bit Blues Album Review