Kit Clayton, Stewart Walker, Chessie | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Kit Clayton, Stewart Walker, Chessie 

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KIT CLAYTON, STEWART WALKER, CHESSIE

In electronic music, the how has historically been at least as interesting as the what, and it's certainly a focus of this touring package bill. Kit Clayton's music is a sort of minimalist instrumental analogue to Mad Professor's jacked-up digidub--a laptop tinkerer from San Francisco, he tweaks very simple rhythms and short melodic sequences with the same fervor the Prof uses to scramble reggae's eggs. On his new Nek Sanalet (on the German label -Scape, run by Stefan Betke of Pole, whose glitchwerks also incorporate dubby atmospherics), tinny programmed beats ping-pong through the milky ether, washes of synthesized melodica echo into oblivion, and harsher electronic sounds get twisted and pulled like taffy. There's less reverb on the recent Repetition and Nonsense (Dropbeat), where squigglier figures shape- and tone-shift over spare techno beats, but the process is similar. Opening for Clayton are two artists from the opposite coast who've also developed distinctive MOs. Stabiles (Force Inc.), the latest work by D.C. techno minimalist Stewart Walker, is inspired by the outdoor sculptures of Alexander Calder--who is of course best known for his mobiles. Walker builds the music methodically, one element at a time--electronic kick-drum beat, high-hat pattern, squelchy bleeps, darting bass tones, hypnotic synth riff, ambient wash--but once he's laid down a layer, it usually stays perversely the same. Walker's stated goal, "to write sound compositions which present a stationary focus in the home listening environment," sounds dull on paper, but actually the sheer physicality of his sounds and his entrancing choice of rhythms sucked me in. Lastly, there's Chessie--aka Stephen Gardner, formerly the bassist in the D.C. jangle-pop trio Lorelei--whose new Meet (Dropbeat) is a joyful chaotic jumble of distorted drum 'n' bass rhythms, disconnected guitar strumming, ambient drift, and floating bass lines. In his case, the music is ultimately less interesting than how it's made. While most of his brethren have embraced computers, samplers, and sequencers, Chessie still prefers an old-fashioned four-track tape recorder. The loops he creates--which can feature everything from train whistles to electronic static to Satie-esque piano melodies--come in various lengths, and though he treats them heavily during the mixing process, he's chosen not to edit them for synchronicity, leaving the structures largely to chance. Unfortunately, the execution is not always as cool as the concept. Sunday, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

Peter Margasak

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