A few years after I moved to New York I was shopping for electronic music at Kim’s Music and Video in the East Village. Kim’s had these little listening stations set up where you could put on headphones and preview CDs of new music. I put on some phones and listened to an album by someone called Lackluster—a name I thought was great because it didn’t set the bar too high for the listener. I liked the music and its CD cover and asked the sales clerk about what else he had that was similar-sounding. I remember the clerk—he wore dreadlocks and a black tee—and I remember him steering me towards more serious stuff, specifically Autechre, so thank you for that. But I was curious about this Lackluster. In some ways hearing this music was formative to my interest in music production because I heard sounds I liked but didn’t quite get. I was quite naive about how I approached this CD: I didn’t know anything about the artist (nor do I recall ever being curious to investigate the matter further, but for the record, his name is Esa Juhani Ruoho), I didn’t know what style of music this was (sort of a downtempo), or even how its sounds fit into what was going on in electronic music at the time. I simply thought the producer’s choice of timbres, chords, rhythms, and overall vibe were evocative of…something. So I bought the CD, and while I don’t recall when I listened to it, I listened quite a bit, pleased that I had found this thing I didn’t understand.
So much has changed since then. There’s no more record stores. No more CDs or listening stations. Spotify’s algorithms now recommend music for me. And in a way, now I engage in far less naive listening that allows the music I hear to just be.
Lackluster’s track “Cull Streak”, with its additive form, sub bass, pads, staccato lead line, and dry brittle syncussion, was one of my favorite pieces: