In the April 2005 issue of Wire, Aaron Funk, aka Venetian Snares, told the following story: “For a period I would literally do crack all night and then after I came down I’d sleep a couple hours, get up and do music. I would twist the music until it gave me the same rush I got from the crack, that full euphoric adrenalin blast. Bit of a dangerous experiment but a couple of wicked 12"s came as a result. Those were strange days.” He wasn't talking about his most recent album, Rossz Csillag Alatt Született
("Born Under a Bad Moon" in Hungarian), but he might as well have, since it has a similar kind of effect. Each song on this, his ninth full-length, is paced with a sense of inevitability, an ebb and flow that can only be a recreation of that rush. Unlike in the past, where Funk would just use breakbeats and noise to create these effects, he turns this time to samples of early- to mid-20th century classical music, most prominantly sampling Elgar's cello concerto in "Szamár Madár," but there are touches of Bartók and other composers who I should be able to identify but can't. The track structure is perhaps a bit formulaic, starting with an orchestral sample, manipulating it a bit before adding in digital hardcore-style breakbeats and mixing the two together until they reach a glorious dénouement a few minutes in. However, the music never really gets old. Funk has a way of mixing things up sufficiently to keep interest going over the duration of the record. He also doesn't stick just with strings for his samples, bringing in the full power of the orchestra at points, shuffling in some well placed guitar plunks or xylophone licks. Most impressively timed is his cover of the "Hungarian Suicide Song," a track notorious for being the most depressing song ever, in which he uses samples of Billie Holliday singing the song over a texture reminiscent of Portishead's best moments.
What sets this apart from other electronic type albums that use strings as a base is the amount of respect Funk seems to have for the original source material. I'm very much of the mind that when someone uses a sample of anything, they should have a damn good reason for it, and they should use it as more than just window-dressing (see this review
I did for dusted for a full diatribe). At no point does Funk use a sound just as a sound. When you hear the Elgar cello concerto emerge in "Szamár Madár," it takes a few seconds to realize what you're hearing, but when you do, you still get the full punch of the original piece which tempers the din that surrounds it and makes the track that much more bittersweet. And that is what makes this more than just a rehash of old Aphex Twin- or Alec Empire-style breakbeats. The classical music allows us to recontextualize this as the kind of merging of acoustic and electronic that Edgar Varèse could only dream of.