Last week, I ordered a “dirty video mixer” from a fellow named Johnny Beck who lives in Appleton, Wisconsin and produces a variety of other homemade electronics — such as circuit bent keyboards. In addition to my mixer, Beck included a couple of cassettes and Bandcamp download codes for albums he has released over the years under the moniker Slow Normals. One cassette is generic and clear, “Slow Normals” stuck on its face with an old Dymo label. The other is a recycled cassette, having contained Old Testament readings in its previous life. After some deliberation, I went with the latter and stuck it in my cassette deck.
As it turns out, the cassette contains two albums (both of which are available on Bandcamp) — Jenny’s Video Store and Wave Temple. I’m not sure if his decision to include both of these albums on one cassette is an artistic choice or rather an economic choice; I’d prefer to not know, honestly—being that it has truly been a pleasure listening to it all from start to finish.
Beck’s music contains multitudes—especially when considering genre. There are most certainly lo-fi Vaporwave elements at play—but only on the surface. Yes, there are a few chopped/looped samples that may have been re-pitched a bit. Yes, the songs are all very much afloat in a hazy sea of static and hiss. However, beneath it all there is strong evidence of a serious soundtrack artist at work—being that there are most certainly some fuzzed-out sonic landscapes here that sort of make me wonder if Beck might be trying to emulate what might have happened if Vangelis had tried to score a John Hughes movie.
Ultimately, Beck’s effort to reach beyond these tropes and instead utilize them to create a forward-moving narrative experience is quite apparent when listening to the (sort of) double-album as a whole. In this, the sprawling nature of these paradoxically rough/careful compositions somewhat remind me of Aphex Twin’s ambient works—mostly in that there is a noticeable balance of precision and playfulness executed by an artist who obviously cares a lot about what he’s doing.
What also makes Beck’s music so layered and multi-faceted is the variety of electronic instruments that are (I only assume based on my own musical experience) used throughout these two works. There are a few segments (especially in Jenny’s Video Store — see “Orlando Flux”) that point to a low-key sampler of some sort—an sp404 maybe? Other sections are most likely products of vintage drum machines and modular/analog patch-play and knob-twisting (see “8.8.16” off of Wave Temple). I also imagine that a great number of the most off-putting bleeps and sweeps and bit-crushed bangs emanate from Beck’s closet full of circuit-bent devices.
I really shouldn’t ponder though. After all, very little is left to the imagination in these voyeuristic times. The charm of quality experimental music is and always has been the mystique behind its creation.
That being said, I urge you to please visit the Slow Normals Bandcamp page and experience Beck’s vibes for yourself. His beautiful, unsettling take on experimental soundtrack music is, fittingly, miles beyond normal.