Bill Laswell: Activate




Bill Laswell (bass)


Baselines (Elektra 60221-1)

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Bill Laswell (bass),

George Lewis (trombone), Ralph Carney (bass sax, contrabass clarinet), Michael Beinhorn (synthesizer, shortwave, tapes), Ronald Shannon Jackson (drums)


Composed by Bill Laswell


Recorded: Brooklyn, NY, early 1984


Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Introduced by a strangely metered 7-note sequence, "Activate" is a truly magical ride through the cosmos guided by multi-instrumentalist Bill Laswell. The track's audio collage quickly establishes itself, fusing indecipherable electronic sounds generated by the use of several processing units key to the final product. However, the big mystery is what the actual musical concept is, as constant bass solos compete with horns and strings that merge to imitate airplanes, car horns and whooshing winds. These effects are somewhat drowned out by the upfront percussion, driven mainly by closed hi-hats, which provide the catalyst for everything else that occurs. The music is too jarring for conventional listening; it seems carefully crafted with the goal of breaking down technical limitations, and the basic motif is proof. Built on purposeful disharmony, the melody is established by single-tone synthesizer stabs that sink into the background as part of the orchestration, and from the outset several layers combine to create music without true definition or precedent. It is a unique sound and style that takes patience to fully appreciate.

Reviewer: Marcus Singletary

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