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Adrian Rew
Slot Machine Music Vol. 1 (Reissue) Dustin Krcatovich , September 11th, 2014 11:07

"Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating." –John Cage, "The Future of Music: Credo"

The above notion, in some form or another, has guided the careers (or hobbies) of countless sound recordists. By listening to and capturing sound for posterity, sound recordists are able at times to make complex statements while saying nothing at all, giving the floor instead to the usually-ignored sounds of our chaotic world. The art of the field recording, then, is a craft of framing, leaving the action up to their surroundings and, later, the listener.

Adrian Rew's name deserves a place of honour on any list of sound recordists for his recent work, having risked social propriety, not to mention a decent digital recorder, to clandestinely capture the sounds of a number of midwestern American casinos. The resulting picture disc LP (a reissue of a CDR previously released on Rew's own Ergot Records label) is an immersive, debatably frightening meander through what is known by addicts and industry professionals alike as "The Zone". As Rew describes it, The Zone is an elaborate construction of "oxygen-saturated pleasure air, subtly controlling walkways, mesmerising lights, and [...] meticulously engineered sonic environments"; it is a mental and emotional space where concerns of time and financial security are suspended in a void. While the album doesn't capture every sensory input of The Zone (and how could it?), it does its best to evoke them.

What is most striking about the sounds contained on this record is the degree to which they are not chaotic. The lion's share of a casino's gambling machines are tuned to sound off in the key of C Major; while they are not timed to match each other rhythmically, the overall consonance and propensity for repetition creates something akin to a minimalist composition, like an accidental performance of Riley's In C or Eno's Discreet Music. Since these recordings were not made in an unpopulated casino, the potential trance effect here is diminished by snippets of conversation and celebration. Though this admittedly takes away from the immersive potential of the recording, hearing these incidents listening in one's office is quite different, one would think, from hearing them when already mesmerised by The Zone. Combined with the other sensory inputs of a casino, lost in a sea of flashing lights and perfume, these outside human interactions would likely be easy to ignore.

Rew doesn't necessarily impose a message onto these recordings, but there is nonetheless an implicit polemical thrust. Like listening to isolated tracks from an ornate pop song, hearing the sounds of The Zone out of context makes the listener more acutely aware of the degree of manipulation at work whenever they walk into a casino: the sound, after all, is only one part of an extremely elaborate environment designed to not call attention to itself or its individual parts. You're not supposed to notice The Zone: your singular focus should be, must be, gambling. Rew has done nothing in post-production to manipulate these recordings, but he concedes to exerting a degree of control over the proceedings by gravitating towards sounds that he liked, even deigning to play some of the machines himself on occasion. This Deus Ex Machina, though, intensifies the implicit thesis instead of subverting it: even Rew's advantage of critical distance can't save him entirely from the grip of The Zone.

The world is a noisy place, but casinos aren't just noisy: their cacophony is a manipulative tool for maximum profit. However you may feel about this, it is better to be aware of it. Our species may well never break the consumer trance created by The Zone which is Our World, but knowing we are being mesmerised is half the battle. As such, whether Rew's intention is to educate, hypnotise, or simply amuse, Slot Machine Music Vol. 1 provides an essential service by dragging The Zone into a place where it can be examined.