Now, I understand that Shuttle 358 isn’t drone music by any traditionally prescribed definitions of the term, but bear with me here. If we’re going to agree that drone music uses a minimal palette (even if that palette is sometimes subsequently applied in maximal ways), Shuttle 358′s Understanding Wildlife, producer Dan Abrams’s 2002 album, ably fits that bill. And while there’s less of an emphasis on sustaining tones, Shuttle 358 certainly exemplifies the powers of repetition and mood exploration that most drone exhibits.
Shuttle 358, and Understanding Wildlife in particular, comes from that moment around the turn of the century where electronic genres like clicks & cuts/glitch and microhouse made music from an ever-shrinking library of sonic possibilities. This music was less about breadth and more about depth—depth of sound and of orthodoxy. Orthodoxy, in the form of paring down and stripping away whenever possible, is important here: Clicks & cuts,* like several other highly specialized subgenres, was always more about experimentation than visceral connection. I mean “experimentation” the literal sense of testing, too, not just its typical musical meaning (which is, I think, supposed to mean “strange”). Sometimes these tests would yield engaging work, as is the case with Vladislav Delay’s fascinating output. By and large, though, clicks & cuts was music to be thought about more than it was to be felt.**
So out of that knotty paragraph, we’ve yielded this: Clicks is cold music, and Shuttle 358 is clicks-oriented. Instead of sounding dry, distant, and clinical, however, Understanding Wildlife sounds intimate, warm, and vital.
It’s immediately telling that the first song on Understanding Wildlife, the finely gorgeous “Finch,” begins with what sounds like a synthesized harp voice. It’s a rich, warm, golden tone at odds with the eviscerated sine waves you might typically expect from an album like this. Indeed, though Shuttle 358 certainly incorporates elements of clicks & cuts, they’re not the central focus of the album. Instead, they become a foundation upon which a subtly shifting set of soothing, low-profile tones are built. It’s a simple formula, repeated time and again, but the collective effect is the evocation of supreme peace, a temporal suspension, an immersion into dark, warm waters.
Understanding Wildlife turns restraint, normally a distancing attribute, into an intimate one. The effect is at once very quiet and very close. You want to lean into this album, to envelop yourself in its unassuming world of small and unexpected beauty.
*The name comes from a series of compilations curated and released by the German record label Mille Plateaux. Clicks & cuts takes the disorienting abstraction of glitch to its minimal extreme, all sterilized high pings, metallic scrapes, and subaquatic bass detonations.
**Apologies if I offend anyone who really bawls out to those Mille Plateaux comps. I’d love to hear your perspective on mine. I just don’t really get a deep upswell of emotion when I listen to Farben or early Pole (which is admittedly extremely rarely, if ever), and I suspect that that’s not the point.