Various Artists

An album of music by visual artists, from Rosa Barba to Cory Arcangel

On Sampler1, music becomes a playground. A compilation album from London-based label OUTPUTS, which seeks to unite visual art and music, Sampler1 features exploratory, electronic vignettes made by an international group of visual artists. While most of the artists sculpt layered, electronic textures, each track offers a different palette of instruments and techniques: Rosa Barba’s ‘Let Me See It’ makes music out of meditative poetry; Jack Jelfs’ ‘Morning Image’ crafts frenetic rhythms; David Toop’s ‘Yanomami Wayamou’ follows a field recording from the Amazonian Yanomami Wayamou tribe. There’s no real throughline or cohesion between the tracks – instead, this is an album about giving artists free reign to experiment with their individual voices and to let their ideas run wild, seeing where they may end up. At its heart, Sampler1 showcases the range of OUTPUTS’ project, and the many ways visual artists can apply their practices to music.

Sampler1 is full to the brim with ideas, and most of the tracks cram them all into one package. This proves only occasionally effective, like on Lucie Jelfs’ ‘Broken Bones’, which grows from repeating, spliced together vocals into a sprawling rhythmic lattice. But it often feels like the artists are trying to hit every genre on the map rather than pick an idea and stick to it. Many of the pieces are jumpy, leaping between drastically different musical ideas – most of which have promise, but when placed together feel at-odds. Take Haroon Mirza & Helga Dorothea Fannon’s ‘The Ancients Call It Ataraxia (OUTPUTS mix)’, for example. Each section of the track gives something intriguing to grasp – it opens with buzzing drones, bursts into operatic vocals, then plunges into pulsing beats – yet there’s no bridge between phrases, and they wind up feeling slapped together. Throwing too much into the pot leaves the music feeling frenzied and uncertain, lacking a direction to go in.

But in the moments where artists pare down their ideas, Sampler1 feels its strongest. Rosa Barba’s ‘Let Me See It’ crafts an eerily tranquil mood out of feathery spoken word and drifting pianos; it’s only a few sounds, but with them, Barba conjures a striking haunted feeling. Cory Arcangel’s closer ‘currentmood’ – an album highlight – doesn’t move too much, yet the track feels all-consuming and hypnotic. The piece flows like waves coming into shore, building from staticky swishes that crescendo and fade away. Not much else happens – just the entrance and disappearance of whooshing sounds into the ether. But sometimes the simplest melodies are all you need to get swept away.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today