Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Musical Interlude: Deep Forest

There was a lot of great pop music in the early 1990s. "Sweet Lullaby" by Deep Forest is definitely one of numerous high-points from back in the day:




I've had a fascination with electronic music for a long while - probably as long as I've been aware of music (meaning we have to go back to the 1970s). One form I came to really groove on was ambient music, when by a happy accident I heard some of Brian Eno's mid-1970s experimentation with the form on a late night radio talk show. Needless to say, throughout the mid-to-late1980s, I'd try to pick up as much vinyl (and later CDs) by Eno and his numerous collaborators as I could. Eno's 1978 album Music For Airports is arguably the classic in terms of early ambient, and is the ultimate in chillout music. Although the form sort of stagnated during much of the 1980s, a new generation of recording artists, as well as the occasional odd musicologist, were studying 1970s and early 1980s ambient and would bring the form back in a big way in the 1990s.

Deep Forest's eponymous first album deserves mention in this regard. In a way, it wasn't like what they were doing was entirely novel. The development of so-called "fourth world" music had already been pioneered by Eno, Jon Hassell, and to a degree David Byrne. Fourth world recordings from around 1980 fused found sounds (or what we'd now call samples), traditional instrumentation representing the entire globe, and electronic wizardry. When I listen to Deep Forest's work, I hear the influence of such seminal albums as Eno & Hassell's Fourth World: Possible Musics Vol. 1 and Eno & Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. By the 1990s, Deep Forest would be updating the sound with digital synths, dance beats influenced by the numerous incarnations of house music, in addition to samples of traditional songs and chants of the Pygmies from field recordings. Like any good fourth world recording, there was just the right blend of ancient and contemporary, and a reverence for the cultures from whom the artists were borrowing. Deep Forest's tracks range from quite danceable (such as the title track) to ideal chillout music for tired ravers (such as "Sweet Lullaby"). The music holds up quite nicely roughly 17 years later.

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