For those into ambient electronica or computer music, Terre Thaemlitz is an anomaly. In the 1980s, Terre was a very busy DJ in New York City's underground house music scene. In the 1990s, he created pioneering ambient electronica, often collaborating with the likes of Scanner and Bill Laswell. Then, he released a slew of eclectic projects on Mille Plateaux and his own label, Comatonse, that were as much about deconstructing consumer culture, gender identity, the human/machine interface, and politics, as shaking your booty or curling up on a La-Z-Boy with your headphones on. In fact, when he's not cracking cynical snaps like a downtown drag queen, Terre sounds like a college professor. Here's a clip from a profile I wrote about him a decade ago (photo by Bart Nagel):
Thaemlitz is a transgender/transgenre computer musician. A pomo-sexual producer wading through Marxist theory while a soundtrack of Styx, Stevie Wonder, and Japanese techno-pop plays in the background at home. A creator of cultural commentary in the form of computer-generated hard-listening anti-Muzak.
"The overall theme of my work has to do with the fragmentation of identity, and the way that dominant ideologies teach us to conceptualize the singular self, the individual, when really we're forced to play many different roles every day," says Thaemlitz, cruising through his run-down Bay Area neighborhood in a jacked-up Buick Skylark. "I play a musician. I play the anti-musician. I play a fag. I play a drag queen. I play an ex-husband. A business administrator. Queer. Straight. Gay. But we don't really have a popular ideology that directly embraces such fragmentation."
Terre's latest project is the Dead Stock Archive, a collection of every audio release Terre has made under his real name or aliases. It includes 2 DVD-ROM data disks with more than 61 hours of music, all album texts, unreleased audio, all video releases to date, and all cover art. Several packages are available that include the likes of photograph inserts and limited edition posters. For example, one version comes in an aluminum case with a zipper, another in a plush hamburger-shaped soft case packed in a picnic box. The price for this magnificent objet d'art/music is $275.
From the product description:
For over 15 years, Terre Thaemlitz has been producing digital audio in a variety of genres – from ambient to electroacoustic to direct digital synthesis to computer composed piano solos to the self-described "Fagjazz" deep house sound – with projects focusing on themes ranging from anti-Muzak campaigns to transgendered passport and border control issues.
In recent years, iTunes and other major online distributors had been making several of Terre's projects available for commercial download without any contracts, and without disclosing to whom they were paying sales royalties. Clearly, such distributors had no direct interest in Terre's audio projects, but simply wanted to increase the chances of making a sale from their ever-expanding commercial online archives. Now that the files have finally been taken offline, Terre presents this alternative offline archive containing everything from the best to the worst by this "musician's musician."
The "Dead Stock Archive" is intended as a treat for the completist fan, as well as a "fuck you" to the corporate audio thugs who are so successfully moving us toward paid subscription download culture by claiming a need to protect information from illegal sale, all the while themselves partaking in greed-based piracy. But no matter how wide a selection they offer, no archive shall ever be complete. It would be a mistake to allow the mass of noise available to prevent us from hearing the silence of that which is commercially absent.