THE SUMMIT AWAITS: Peter Relic on Ellen Allien’s “BoogyBytes, Vol. o4” (Arthur, 2008)

RUNNING WITH THE ALLIEN

A New Mix Of Beats To Make You Run For The Hills

by Peter Relic

Posted April 28, 2008 in Arthur’s blog on Yahoo


In 2006 LCD Soundsystem released 45:33, a Nike-sponsored iTunes download specifically designed to last the length of a workout. Its headphone-friendly beats projected an arcing ebb-and-flow fully compatible with, say, hauling ass in a perspiration-wicking outfit on your programmable treadmill. Not that James Murphy ever used it for that purpose.

In its conception and execution, 45:33 implied the creation of a micro-genre: dance music made for working out instead of for the dancefloor. Of course, maybe the genre already existed. What, you never heard of maximum impact minimal techno? Intelligent disassociative cardiocentric endorphin house?

Anyway, the good news for iPod-addicted workout junkies is that the best runner’s soundtrack since 45:33 is upon us: BoogyBytes, Vol.04 mixed by Berlin beat moll Ellen Allien. Even if the iPod still behaves way too much like a wonky Intellivision controller. And nothing will ever beat having someone drive alongside you blasting the Chariots Of Fire theme out their car window.

The running time of Allien’s mix is 1:06:08, a full ligament stretch longer than LCD’s aerobic festivities. While Allien’s mix comes with no particular designation for ideal use, the accompanying one-sheet states: “The bass drum is not set into the foreground as it is not intended to dominate the feelings of the listener.” It’s cerebral listening (what Berlin techno isn’t?) but Allien’s selections all originate from some inner charge, rather than being barrages of external force. Kinda like if a cheerleading squad did their routines sotto voce.

I took the mix for a test run on a five-mile stretch of the Josephine Saddle towards Strawberry Peak in the Angeles Crest Forest–one of those places that L.A. haters would be gutted to learn is only a 20-minute drive from Hollywood.

The initial quarter mile is a hopscotch scrabble across the bed of a waterfall-fed stream. The static and breathy Kraut-talk of Agf’s “Liniendicke” comes first in the mix. No beats yet. It’s as the trail proper picks up that the pulse of Vera’s “In The Nook” kicks in. The path is ├╝ber-narrow, the ascent equally steep. A take-off tone crescendos into a steady ponging pulse. The music demands a steady stride and soon I’ve gained enough elevation to be afforded a view. What began as an overcast morning is breaking up, sunlight flaring purplish green tints across the scrubby chaparral. Gorgeous. A few minutes of running later I’m navigating a crumbly ledge dropping off to a dark rocky pool hundreds of feet below as the byte-diced voice in Sozadams’ “Eyes Forlon” quips “What kind of sh*t is that?” Excellent question.

Running downhill can be tougher than going up, but when the trails drops off to cross the stream the momentary respite is welcome. Then the uphill begins again. This is the second, more gradual half of the climb. Nevertheless as the circuitous path spools upward it’s hard to get a sense of distance gained. Long minutes pass. Lizards skitter underfoot. Goldenbush blooms multiply. Hamstrings announce their stress. The chant “Music is improper!” (from the Friendly People track of the same name) brings some well-timed comic relief.

With its black oaks and snowy peaks, the Angeles Crest offers a wonderfully varied landscape. A little bit Andes, a little bit Appalachia. The blinkered darkness of Sascha Funke’s “Double Checked” shares a seam with the pep-club handclaps of “Withdrawl” by Gaiser. As in nature so goes the mix, its diversity maintaining a strong sense of congruity. Now running close to the hour mark, I’m hoping the percussive pops I’m hearing are coming from my headphones and not my kneecap. When I finally see the top of the tree-line, I’m convinced that the mountain top is around the next switchback.

Of course it isn’t. Before me stands a cliff wall cross-hatched by the fading path. Nevertheless this is the last push, the summit awaits, and the bass-line from Kassem Mosse’s “A1” insists put your back into it!

At the top, hikers rest atop a concrete obelisk. Finally I reach them. The last track, Little Dragon’s “Twice,” arrives with optimum timing. It’s a gorgeous piano ballad to begin with, but Allien has twerked out a new beat-free intro to the song, an unadorned wash of sculpted tones. As it fills my head I spy a thread-thin trail extension. I scramble up. Another minute and I’ve got to be close to 5000 feet elevation. There’s no one here, nowhere left to go. The temperature drops precipitously as a cold mist whips away all visibility. A moment later the fog passes. A gorgeous panorama is revealed, rays of ragged light shifting across the dozen interlocking vales below. It’s gotta be more sublime any light show in any nightclub ever. Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano sings her weary but soul-refreshing hymn, repurposed here by Ellen Allien as a reminder: Live to run another day.

Peter Relic is a poet, journalist, trombonist and contributing editor to Arthur Magazine.