Into the second decade of this century we’ve seen the proliferation of one-man acts. You’re either Prince or a bit player. And controlling all of the parts also means releasing your music yourself — there seems to be more tape labels started by armchair composers (or improvisers as on-the-fly composers) than I can count. At the vanguard of synth revivalism has been Oneohtrix Point Never and Emeralds — catching the attention of internet tastemakers. Dylan Ettinger made a splash in 2010 with the reissue of New Age Outlaws by Not Not Fun Records. Originally a cassette release, it was subtitled Director’s Cut for its vinyl pressing with added track and reordering.
Mr. Ettinger runs his own imprint, El Tule, representing fellow midwestern sound artists, and like midwestern aforementioned Emeralds, Dylan sticks to limited edition tapes. In the new year, Dylan Ettinger brings us Botany Boy on the finely curated and branded NNA Tapes label based out of Burlington, Vermont. The aesthetic of Botany Boy sounds familiar — a nostalgia that cannot quite be placed. A sound more finely tuned and focused than New Age Outlaws, Botany Boy’s sound shares elements with 8-bit action side-scrollers and Dario Argento thriller soundtracks.
As alluded in the beginning, Botany Boy sets Ettinger as a composer that is clearly working through several layered lines, each staying within a certain register and exploiting the versatility of tone and timbre of the synthesizer. While tape releases tend to favor the long form — usually a track per side, Ettinger provides four neatly transitioned tracks on a C24 (24 minutes of tape). Each track follows the formula of a rhythmic and repetitive bass line that serves as the foundation for dawdling flourished phrases that become interwoven at a song’s height before relaxing their tension and unraveling. Perhaps a stretch for purists Ettinger’s newest work feels like a reimagining of Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air with a taste for the dance floor. Riley and his contemporaries too were working with improvisation and loops.
While Dylan Ettinger and other one-man acts are being quickly termed drone or hypnagogic, Botany Boy deals more with silence and deliberately poised rhythm than previous releases. While tape lends itself well to prolificity, I could easily see Etinnger revisitng Botany Boy for a director’s cut as well.