1. pieces of music, or parts of pieces, characterised by a continuous steady stream of notes, usually at a rapid tempo
2. whole pieces, or large parts of pieces, which are to be played repeatedly, often an indefinite number of times.
Perpetuum Mobile (Soleilmoon, 2007), the latest release from UK-based sampleheads People Like Us and Ergo Phizmiz, is proving to be one of the sleeper hits of the year. Now that our hunger for plunderphonics and mashups is running in low drive, it's easy to understand how releases like this could fly under the radar. It may also have to do with the fact that Vicki Bennet, aka People Like Us, hasn't really changed her style in any dramatic way during the past sixteen years, and the 27-year old Ergo seems to be following rather faithfully in her footsteps. Nevertheless, Perpetuum Mobile is an enticing record, rich with materials and compositional nuances. Conceived as an open-source project wherein the two performers uploaded their files to a shared online space for each to edit at their leisure, Perpetuum Mobile is a fresh take on the Girl Talk-style of audio theft, in the sense that guessing what materials are sampled is more than just an interesting thing to do while driving. These are distinctly well-crafted pieces, catchy in a way that eclipses the mere recognizability of the stolen tunes. And as opposed to Girl Talk, the spectrum of popular music on display here reaches much further back than 1980; rather than cashing in on the Now, it's an attempt to revitalize the Past.
Like Christian Marclay, People Like Us and Ergo Phizmiz love to dabble in kitsch. Early popular songs, cartoons, lounge music, and cheesy Latin dance lps provide most of the building blocks. Unlike some of Marclay's music, though, the objet trouvé does not have any significant degree of autonomy here. Any sound, vocal, or melody becomes twisted into Bennett's and Phizmiz's pop songcraft, broken apart and rephrased to fit the new themes, emphasizing the hidden melodic or rhythmic gestures in any fragment of sound. Like the tradition of sampling in other mediums - most notably film - the physicality of so many pop culture items is made apparent; removed from their narrative context, a nod of the head or a turn of the arm takes on a new, often subversive significance. André Breton once said that the Surrealist way to watch a movie involved walking into the cinema mid-way through a screening, watching part of the feature, and then leaving just as unaware of the film's basic plot details. Bennett and Phizmiz hint at their devotion to the Surrealist experience with an opening track called "Ghosts Before Breakfast" after Hans Richter's 1927 film of the same title. Fantasy and non-sequiturs are the name of the game here, and Perpetuum Mobile sounds like so many interrupted conversations strung together into an indefinite stream of unintelligible yet melodious phonemes.
The highlights are numerous, but making its way into my playlist most frequently is the lengthy "Air Hostess", deftly peppered with mambo samples, repetitive piano chords, opera, organs, abbreviated screams, staccato trumpets, classic crooning, Louis Armstrong loops, and a Joseph Beuys imitation. The result is wonderfully frenetic, cluttered and incredibly catchy. While sampling isn't quite the radical technique it used to be, Bennett and Phizmiz do it with such gusto that you'll find yourself simply carried away by their postmodern devilry. "Social Dance Song" combines Hawaiian guitars with a distorted vocal snippet (sung in a Japanese falsetto?), also put to good use on its brief sequel, "High Society Dance", which translates the same melody into a detuned violin/banjo hoe-down. The lush orchestral pop of "Smiling in the Rain Suckling" comes as a surprise, with its hummed theme, bright string arrangements and Cole Porter refrain: "You could have a great career. Only one thing stops you... you're too good." "The Joy of Noise" lives up to its moniker with its furiously stuttered vocals and ratchety tuba/bike horn rhythm, while "Oh No Not Another Cha Cha" sports folky guitar riffs, jazzy interludes and Latin percussion set to charming lyrics like "Throttle him for drinking whiskey, gosh he's feeling mighty frisky!" Collectively, the tracks on Perpetuum Mobile successfully create an air of nostalgia while not sinking too deeply in retro fetishism, falling comfortably between worshipping the vintage item and still being able to dance with these dusty artifacts in new and interesting ways. Is this the future of pop music? Let's hope.
People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz - Air Hostess.mp3 (192 kbps, 10.2 mb)
People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz - Perpetuum Mobile (Soleilmoon, 2007)