Album Review: James Murphy - Remixes made with Tennis Data

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

Since he broke his band up in the most grandiose way possible, James Murphy has stayed incredibly busy - maybe busier than he was when he was in LCD Soundsystem. It seems like every couple months, there's word of a new project from James, though not necessarily musical in nature. Sure, James has continued DJing and manning operations over at DFA, but his more recent projects include a custom coffee, stepping into the director's chair for a short film (though, admittedly, the credits song featuring Childish Gambino, Sam Spiegel of N.A.S.A., and Reggie Watts is totally bumpin') , and scoring the upcoming Noah Baumbach film While We're Young (his second working with Baumbach, following Greenburg). While all those are fine and dandy, none of the above have really exorcised the disco demons that we know are buried in James underneath a plethora of other great ideas. But recently, thanks to IBM, he's sort of gotten a chance to do so - 400 hours worth."I'm not going to sit here and play 400 hours of music", James remarked in an interview about the project, "I'm programming a computer to". Teamed up with one of IBM's data eggheads, Murphy set up an algorithm to key off different notes on different instruments based on data from - drumroll here - live tennis matches! The process hasn't been laid out verbatim anywhere on the Internet yet, but yes, James Murphy and the data analysts over at IBM took live incoming data from the US open qualifier matches through the finals and created music to it, all set at a danceable 4/4 BPM. While the raw data is bit difficult to take in (there are supposedly over 400 hours worth, and everything available on the IBM Soundcloud page is just an excerpt of the larger body of data), but thankfully, when the data gathering step finished, James went back through all of the arrangements he had put together for the different matches and picked a selection of 12 favorites to remix into fully digestible form. The final result, 400 hours of data later and countless more setting up the model and remixing, is what you see below: James Murphy's Remixes made with Tennis Data - an unorthodox dance record with a very, very straightforward name. So, the ultimate question is, is it good? Yes, yes it is, especially for the current price tag of nothing. Grab it below, and get ready to experience tennis at its most exciting since the days of John McEnroe.

First things first, there's a need for a bit of organization. This year, the US open lasted a full 187 rounds (at least, as documented on IBM's Soundcloud). Three rounds of qualifiers led to a round of 16 for both the men's and women's division, then the quarterfinals, then semifinals, then the finals for both. For each round (with some additional deviation for the qualifiers, since there are so many games played), James picked a different set of sounds to assign to the data, letting chance pick the patterns as they came, but guiding the overall cadence with his Midas touch from the get go. The result is a lot of music, most of it extremely ambient and questionably aimless, but all the while, truly remarkable in terms of listenability. With the remixes found in the album above, James has taken the melodic lines that chaos theory has deemed should exist and made the best of them, capitalizing on certain sections, expanding on them to make full tracks. It's a super bizarre and interesting project really. Where, in the past, James has remixed a great number of fantastic songs by fantastic musicians, here, he is remixing fairly random data assigned to non-random musical counterpart. And that's all the feedback he gets! For some of you out there, that might not be enough to entice you to take the dive, but if nothing else, this record stands as a testament to the fact that it is very difficult for James Murphy to make anything unlikable.

Remixes made with Tennis Data could be described perfectly both with or without context. Without it, it's the most bizarrely inviting thing James Murphy has worked on since LCD's 45:33 opus. Actually, it sounds most like the remix album paired with 45:33 (going deep here with LCD fans). It has a lot of similar textures, and the questionable endlessness of it all makes it more of a hypnotic effort than an entertaining one. The "Match 181" remix is an 18 minute burner that could almost fool you as the work of someone like Jon Hopkins, but the textures are so quintessentially James that it can't be mistaken. Elsewhere, on tracks like "Match 186 Set 1", Murphy makes more use of the randomness at hand, letting the patterns that the human mind would never pursue take the wheel to show a different color and a different shade of the instruments we know so well otherwise. Furthermore, the tumult of the fact that this was the first match of two to win the US Open (186 was the women's final) is perfectly captured in the competitive nature of the piano lines. Yes, it's a bit crazy to think about, but at the same time, it's an innovation that we are get to see for (maybe) the first time here on this record, with James Murphy no less.

Elsewhere, there are head-bobbing, feet-moving bonafide bangers. The album opens with "Match 4", a track that out the gate has the bass drum kicking like the heaviest of Murphy's catalogue, under a cyclical melody that seems to confound more than it gives, making you want to dance and scratch your head at the same time. Later "Match 104" asks you less questions, getting right on with it in a sexy, mysterious steel drum build that explodes into a groove that finds itself amongst the best of Murphy's remix material. Later, "Match 176" is a high tempo, spacey house track that bubbles with unpredictability but explodes in excellent DFA nature. And finally, the last match of the US Open and the last track on the record, "Match 187" ends the record with a new wave processional, making use of the (I think I'm hearing it right here) the "Dance Yrself Clean" synthesizer in a similarly soul-piercing, diamond fashion.

Remixes made with Tennis Data is exactly what it sounds like - it's James Murphy making some badass DFA style house tracks out of random cadences that come from US Open tennis data. As weird as that is, it turned out in predictably incredible James Murphy fashion. There is an air of coldness where the man meets the machine, yes, but for the remix album that we have before us, James Murphy dominates the battle and assembles a remarkable ambient electronic record that finds its way into danceable DFA territory on occasion, then sinks back into the mist where the rest of his house music tendencies have been living for the last three years. It's good to have a fresh full length James Murphy record on constant repeat again.

Grab James Murphy's Remixes made with Tennis Data above. If you find yourself among the brave, daring, or just have a lot of time, check out 60 hours of raw tennis data music over at IBM's Soundcloud, tracking the entirety of the US Open, from three rounds of qualifiers to the finals, both men and women. It's actually very listenable, and again, all free. Have fun!

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