When you push things too far, funny things happen. Rules shatter, reality subsides, sovereign components mash against each other with such force that glitches burst forth like dazzling sparks. Language breaks down. Emotions twist. And gawkers usually come out of the woodwork.
In David Foster Wallace's postmodern classic, Infinite Jest, the novel's protagonist, Hal Incandenza, a lexical prodigy capable of reciting nearly the entire Oxford English Dictionary verbatim, ends up unable to communicate at all beyond the expressive content of waggling his arms and producing a variety of clicks and "subanimalistic noises." In competitive video gaming, a "kill screen" refers to a point at which a player can no longer advance due to a limitation in the design of the program, often the result of an integer overflow in the level counter (think Y2K bug). There's no telling how the game will act once the kill screen is reached. Orientations flip, elements of the game disappear; the operation goes haywire. In the world of Albert Elmore, a 20-hour internet bender produces a tangled mess of aesthetic tropes, web memes, random noises, inside LOLs, and conceptual thinking.
The impulse to push things beyond their intended purpose—to repeat a sequence over and over, to hack a website, to code some ridiculously circuitous program—is a major source of inspiration for the performer known simply as Albert (formerly SMAK 10K, Jon Jacob 3, Never Say DJ Fred Equipment, etc.). That's how he arrived at the word-salad title of James St. Murder Laden Mitten Wonder for his debut physical release (don't try to uncode it—logic has nothing to do with it), a beautifully packaged slab of forward-thinking electronica pressed on deep groove vinyl. But it's also a major element of his craft.
"It's just fun to push the physics of the hardware, it's like a game," Elmore explains from his St. Paul apartment/home-recording studio.
Unlike many electronic artists who rely chiefly on software to create their music, Elmore is obsessed with hardware, physical machines that can be goaded or forced into mellifluous malfunction. His living space is filled with technological oddities: high-powered optical microscopes, military-grade computers, racks and racks of esoteric synthesizers and sequencers. At a 2010 event put on by Totally Gross National Product, the record label behind his physical-format debut, Elmore DJed off of a large, archaic-looking reel-to-reel machine.
"After years of buying and trading hardware, it eventually got to the point where I had to start opening things up and fixing it, so now I've learned about electronics repair and what's going on internally. It's almost like a level of hacking. You're trying to make the hardware do something that it's not supposed to do."
Although James St. Murder Laden Mitten Wonder marks Elmore's first foray into the realm of physically documented music, the album draws from an archive of material dating back to 2004. For years, Elmore has been making tracks freely available over the web through his site, Bootlegs by People Who Care, a process by which he caught the attention of Totally Gross National Product co-owner Ryan Olson (also of Gayngs, Digitata, Marijuana Deathsquads, etc.).
"I just downloaded everything and made mix CDs, and I would find myself listening to them all the time. I tracked him down," Olson recalls. "He was tapping into shit that I hadn't heard folks do, especially around Minneapolis. His approach was just totally foreign with what other folks I knew were doing with electronic music. His sensibility and his ear are out of control."
While not nearly as overtly confrontational as many of the mp3s Elmore's put out over the web, James St. Murder Laden Mitten Wonder is contoured with skittering glitches, pitch-warped chord progressions, and off-kilter melodic phrasing—experimentalist touches reminiscent of the vintage Warp Records IDM sound. By turns danceable, harrowing, brain-rattling, and even sad, the music still presents a consistent mood across the record that pulls it together even as it veers into seemingly distinct directions.
"There's a definite emotion that I associate with the record, but it's too abstract and obscure to put a word to," Elmore offers.
Where elocution fails, there is always association: a collage of ideas and possibilities. Like an abstract expressionist painter, Elmore flings words at the problem. He came up with "hardcore advent-elliptical hard-step" in an enthusiastic stab at describing his sound. I call it mind-bogglingly brilliant.