Review: Rob Funkhouser, 'Digital Opus' 

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Rob Funkhouser
Digital Opus
Auris Apothecary

Erik Satie's "furniture music" has way too often been used to defend and market boring music. It purportedly justifies the existence of music that can't stand up under any scrutiny, casting it as "mood music," or "cerebral wallpaper."

I spent several days listening to almost nothing but the minimalist synth compositions on Funkhouser's Digital Opus. I lived with it. It became musical furniture for me. I let it retreat behind the sounds of myself working, doing the dishes, carrying laundry to the machine in the basement and so on. This seems the only realistic way to hear the whole thing, since it stretches over four editor-less volumes.

My thoughts when I emerged: Funkhouser's compositions on Digital Opus are furniture music, but are not mood music. Or, anyway, the music's mood, such as it is, resists easy categorization. Digital Opus seems less about mood than personality. These 60 pieces have a clear voice. They seem surprisingly personal for simple, instrumental synth compositions.

Many of the pieces on the four volumes of Digital Opus end abruptly, sometimes even in the middle of a phrase. The ears perk up at the sudden silence, drawn back in. It's like a creak from an old chair. Sat on for years, the chair finally groans as a reminder that it's still there.

The strength is its capacity to drift back and forth from cerebral wallpapering to something centrally arresting. "Six Against" on Volume Three begins as a buzzing tone stack before its organic resolve into melodic polyphony. Volume One's "Waltz" is all whistling simplicity, built out of this subtle, lilting melody that feels hardly there at first. Each piece's development feels absolutely necessary, as if it sprang forth as fully formed musical objects. Funkhouser's ear for composition, structure, texture and melody is remarkable.

Using a relatively small selection of sounds — mostly drum machines and chiming synth patches — Funkhouser crafts a shaggy, sprawling sonic universe, one that makes for a nice contrast with each track's individual minimalism.

It's that contrast that props up Digital Opus into something truly special, something worthy of the time and effort it takes to hear. It's the contrast between, essentially, humility (of small, simple songs) and confidence (of a collection that reaches almost four hours in total length). So, no, thank you very much, despite Digital Opus' intimidating length, Rob Funkhouser doesn't need an editor.

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