Data driven. Content marketing. Regression analysis. Search optimization. And of course, This Simple Hack … If you’ve had any kind of job, or read anything online, or consumed any media at all in the past decade or so, you’ve been inundated with these and similar examples of jargon. The Mexico City musical duo Pidgins have applied their creativity to what they’ve rightly identified as “contemporary trance states: managerial class dogmas, self-help literature, and new age therapies.”
I’m not a fan of most modern electronic music, but I do like the kind of electronic music that early experimenters with synthesizers were doing in the 1960s and ’70s. I’m thinking especially of Morton Subotnick‘s early works on the early Moog synths, using them to create exceptional sounds and explore tone and color and mood through repetition, iteration, and gradual or abrupt shifts. It didn’t involve any melody or rhythm as such, but it was most definitely music. Much like the way The Beatles’ “Revolution 9” is a song, a deliberately constructed collage of music and spoken or sung words and archived recordings intended to rouse emotion and provoke thought.
Pidgins’ Refrains of the Day, Vol. 1 is very much in that tradition, with the added element of video. The eight tracks on this album can very much be listened to and enjoyed without their accompanying videos, but the imagery is part of the point and reveals the music’s profound nature. Pidgins is percussionist Milo Tamez and vocalist and “electroacoustician” Aaron With. Those one-word descriptions fall short of what they’re doing here. They’re using processed vocals and other recorded sounds, plus natural and synthesized rhythms to make music that illuminates the profound absurdity of these “contemporary mantras.”
Best of all, they’ve appropriated stock imagery of business, self-help, therapeutic and motivational videos and used their music as soundtrack. It’s highly entertaining and thought provoking. I was immediately hooked by the first single/video released, for the opening track “Data Driven.”
There’s a lot of variety within the basic framework. “Content Marketing” features rapidfire verbalization of those two words in a way that closely resembles konnokol, the South Indian vocal percussion technique. Percussionist Milo Tamez uses a wide variety of traditional hand and “talking” drums, to which he also adds gongs, rattles, chimes and more. Vocalist and sound manipulator Aaron With employs an even wider array of sounds including synthetically processed chants and (quoting from the one-sheet): Cristal Baschet, pitched cicadas, glass armonica, filter-tuned rainforest field recordings, metal resonances, circuit-bent Speak ‘N Spell, Laotian Kheng, Chinese Sheng, scraped m’biras, hurdy-gurdy, nightjars and owls, and torn cardboard.
If you enjoy this album, and I hope you’ll at least check it out, you’re bound to have a favorite or two among the tracks. I really love “Data Driven,” which is the most song-like of them, with its skittery drumming and tubular bell sort of vocal sounds; and the final track “Search Optimization,” which is heavy on polyrhythmic percussion, something like a gamelan orchestra and a bongo band playing in adjacent rooms, and processed vocals harmonizing the title and other less distinct words, heard distantly as in the house next door or a church down the street. “Still In Progress” is actually calming and a little haunting, especially if you watch the video.
Here are the videos in addition to “Data Driven”:
- “The Simple Hack to Fix Your Stomach“
- “Still In Progress“
- “These Models Scale”
- “Content Marketing“
- “Profit Shifting“
- “Regression Analysis“
“Profit Shifting” and “Regression Analysis” were recorded live Teatro Varsovia in Mexico City just about a year ago, on Nov. 16, 2022.
Pidgins promise Volume 2 sometime in 2024.
(Lexical Records, 2023)