Ben Zimmerman – ‘The Baltika Years’ 2LP [Software]

Been going deep in to this all week, a thirty-one track compilation from Ben Zimmerman collecting his recordings from ’92 to 2002, composed – painstakingly one can imagine – on a Tandy DeskMate computer.

I’m new to the work of Zimmerman, though digging through his bandcamp page I can’t imagine why. A few EPS are present but mostly it’s individual tracks of lo-fi experimental psych electronics and disco pop. Zimmerman samples as often he sings, and equally leaves instrumental tracks as completed works when they’re layered enough.

Unfortunately I don’t have much more information on the man past the fact that he resides in Brooklyn, New York. From what I can see, The Baltika Years is his first physical release, though it’s a little unclear as to whether there was a 45 a little while back.

For the most part, ‘early-day, forgotten tape track’ compilations have about a 50% strike rate of quality. The steps taken to getting to the stage of releasing amazing records are often best left forgotten, and the insistence on labels peddling them about to capitalise on current success is often a waste of plastic. That said, these collections – such as The 4 Track Era from DJ Shadow or Peanut Butter Wolf’s Straight To Tape – can also give up glimpses of relatable evolution for the backpackers, as well as raw and often more emotional individual pieces that reflected a period in time.

And that’s where this release really stands out. The press release (below) nails it when it talks about “how personal the music felt considering the palette used”, and for a full rundown of what’s involved with this particular “palette” I suggest reading The Wire’s in depth article on this release or check this chap giving a full rundown of the machines capabilities, via youtube below.

It’s super basic stuff, and overly complicated with massive delay times to even save, edit or copy patterns.The fact that The Baltika Years is presented at all is incredible, and the quality even more so. Using a combination of the stock instrument sounds that came loaded in to the DeskMate and sampling, you can hear Zimmerman exploring the full spectrum of what he could achieve with it.

The opening track ‘Phyllis’ is a twenty minute composition that best captures this spirit. Seemingly live manipulation of samples, including voices at the start, create a playfulness in which you feel Zimmerman is evolving along with his machine’s capabilities. The piece then makes way for an all encompassing cinematic vibe, balancing between computer game sounds of the ’80s and early horror film soundtracks. It’s a truly beautiful work.

The remaining sixty minutes of the record are dedicated to shorter pieces, with single experimental ideas behind them as opposed to an ongoing story. Split in to sections of creative interest, the voyeuristic producer inside you will get totally lost in this as you listen to Zimmerman pushing through effects and playing with reworked concepts, from basic echoes on kicks to industrial 8-bit gravel.

The closing four tracks are all titled ‘Pausebreak Vol.’ something, and are the highlight for me. It’s almost as if everything was leading up to this pieces that are amen-break influenced and melted in to a Tron arcade soundscape.

Check out ‘Pausebreak Vol. 1’ below and press release underneath that. And big ups Software for what must be considered a ballsy release.

via Mexican Summer / Software

Ben Zimmerman‘s The Baltika Years is a collection of recordings created between 1992 and 2002 mostly using a Tandy DeskMate computer.

When Ben solicited the Tandy tape recordings to Software in 2013, we were taken aback by how personal the music felt considering the palette used. It was like reading an abstract diary. The clues into Ben’s world (and there are many) are so stark and strange that they feel like monuments.

Reducing Zimmerman’s prolific output down to four album sides was a challenge. Much like the myth of the process-oriented painter in his prime, you get the sense that Zimmerman is subconsciously actualizing an artistic scenario that he may or may not be privy to.

When The Baltika Years is absorbed as a canon of work, a super-effect emerges which bonds all of his output. This is somewhat represented in the way we assembled the anthology, focusing on certain stylistic epochs that Zimmerman moved through over a decade of solitary experimenting and obsessing.

In many ways, The Baltika Years embodies the spirit of Software. It articulates a belief that idiosyncrasy is inevitable, and that human affect and technology are linked. One helps the other express something mysterious about the world.

Via limiting himself to one very specific instrument, Ben realized his own style — a monochromatic computer music that glows with the intimacy found in life’s barely audible sentiments, curios, and details.

Ben Zimmerman’s The Baltika Years will be released on June 9, 2015 in double LP and digital forms.