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Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Bear witness

Posted By on Wed, Feb 21, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Right now, in the downstairs apartment, across the street in that seemingly abandoned building, while you are sleeping, while you are making love, people are making music. Neil Ollivierra, aka Detroit Escalator Co., is one of those people. When you drove past the corner of Gratiot and Russell trying to bypass westbound traffic on I-94 into downtown, Mr. Ollivierra was biking through the city recording the life-sound tracks of Detroit. In Ollivierra’s electronic music, these found sounds bring the power of physical presence to the potentially austere world of techno, filled with synthetic strings, keyboard vamps and programmed drum machines, to make a musical gesture so much more than the sum of its multilayered parts.

In this environment, the influences of techno’s first wave (Derrick May et al) seem perfectly at home. On tracks such as “Force,” electric strings follow the gentle ebb and flow of programmed drums and languid keyboard impressions. In “Fate (as a chasm)” and “The Inverted Man (falling),” synthesizers glance off drums and each other, simulating the imaginary music of science fiction that marks the Toffler-driven desires of the early techno pioneers.

But these comparisons dissolve as Ollivierra’s own perspective on a nondance dance music take over. Instead of the persistence of bass riffs or heavy four-on-the-floor rhythms, Ollivierra concentrates on allowing repetition and space to dictate the actions of his expert percussion programming. It is here, where “Shifting Gears” divides Ollivierra’s music from the rest, the ricocheting beats and sudden snare rattles — gunshots? A stranger at the door? It hints to an all-too-earthy real underneath his creative synthetic licenses.

Ollivierra’s music, like the Heidelberg dots that seep into the building walls along Gratiot on the back cover of his recording, bear witness to the city by being present while others are absent. While we were sleeping, Neil Ollivierra was creating, translating a city that we can only now glimpse.

E-mail Carleton S. Gholz at letters@metrotimes.com.

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