Dan Bean has long been involved in the study of, reporting on and performing of electronic music. I first met him at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival when he was about to interview Juan Atkins. In recent years he’s participated in an ambient performance project The Transcendence Orchestra with Anthony Child (aka Surgeon) that combines ritual and drones, not too far from the work of La Monte Young.
“Thus” is his debut solo work. It’s not entirely an homage to vintage electronic music like that of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop or the Film Boards of Canada. Like Boards of Canada (the musical duo, not the film production board), he likes to incorporate the human voice in a distorted and fragmentary form. But even as he uses the same sonic material as his precursors, the result is uniquely his own.
Bean doesn’t stray far from conventional pop music harmony, but structurally his pieces don’t conform to conventional song form. There’s some techno loopiness, but at a more stately tempo with steady, pulsing arpeggios and no pounding 909 drums. More a walk in a public garden than a nightclub with sweat running down the walls. The pieces accrete over time gaining new sounds and patterns that layer on each in shifting, almost restless variation. His work has some of the mechanical stiffness of Kraftwerk, but the mood is more meditative.
Kraftwerk invented a mechanical machine made modernism, all shiny surface and attenuated simulations of emotion. Bean is content to wander a bit as he goes. He’s going somewhere but it’s as though he’s entered a thicket and finds his way to the other side by intuition. “Cloche Utime” is driven by mechanistic chords that constantly modulate to unexpected chords only to make a return to the root tonic chord just as surprising. The echoey 303-esque sliding note pattern well down into the mix connects the music to the sound of the club and festival by the thinnest of threads.
The title song “Thus” starts with a steady rhythm of filter snaps against echoey pitch shifted vocal tones before entering a quieter space of edgeless vague tones. In the end it warps into a spooky, stretched-out waltz. Dan Bean waited years before releasing an album under his own name, but I’m not disappointed. It’s an album reflecting a unique musical personality, with the best kind of novelty, of familiarity in a sound you’ve never heard before.