Robert Millis abstracts shellac into ambient sound | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Robert Millis abstracts shellac into ambient sound 

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click to enlarge Robert Millis's album Related Ephemera

Robert Millis's album Related Ephemera

Courtesy the Artist

Seattle-based musician, composer, filmmaker, ethnographer, and record collector Robert Millis is fascinated with antique formats, and his obsession has evolved from crate digging to a vein of pure, obscure research that just won him a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He has written two books: 2015’s Indian Talking Machine (Sublime Frequencies) and 2008’s Victrola Favorites (Dust-to-Digital), the latter coauthored with Jeffery Taylor, his collaborator in experimental rock band Climax Golden Twins. Each collection combines gorgeous reproductions of 78 RPM record sleeves, center labels, advertisements, players, and collections from around the world with impeccably curated CDs of music culled from the depicted discs; they offer an experience like a hybrid of listening party and travelogue, and enable the armchair-bound audience to transcend boundaries separating countries and eras. If Millis’s books are acts of loving preservation, then the new Related Ephemera is an equally affectionate act of creative destruction. He obtained many of the LP’s sounds by taking the surface noise of 78s and wax cylinders, adding feedback obtained from his collection of gramophones, and then processing this material until its origins were utterly obliterated. On the side-length “Samsara,” bell-like tones stretch until they disintegrate into something like the chatter of a million nighttime insects. “Further Evidence to the Contrary” sounds like a mash-up of late-20th-century electronic music and early musique concrète, mixing glassy resonance, static glitches, and a recording of a creaking door. While the album contains long passages of lulling serenity, Millis can’t help but break his own spell; on a couple tracks, he disrupts the reverie by dropping in the voices of a chitlin-circuit comedian and a self-important lecturer.   v

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