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Frontier Life - Banda Sonora

Frontier Life is a feature length documentary directed and produced by musician and filmmaker Hans Fjellestad (see reviews of his new solo and Donkey CD's in this issue). The subject of the film is Tijuana, which Fjellestad seeks to explore beyond the image cultivated by the mainstream media. The diversity of the city is brought to life even in the brief 3 minute clip I downloaded. The shots alternate between sprawling urban landscape, dusty plains, cowboys, illegal drag races, discos, cock fights... it's interesting to watch this and hear an interview subject state that Tijuana has more to do with science fiction novels than the history books of Mexico, and that he considers the city to be a giant laboratory.

The soundtrack to the film consists of contributions by artists from the Tijuana based Nortec Collective and the San Diego based Trummerflora Collective, the latter being made up of several of the musicians showcased on the Accretions label. The artists include Discar, Panoptica, Clorofila, Las Cajas del Ritmo, Latinsizer, Marcos Fernandes, Point Loma, Marcelo Radulovich, Titicacaman (who is actually Marcelo Radulovich), and Hans Fjellestad. There's a stylistic theme across most of the tracks that combine various elements of robotic electro dance, Dub, space atmospherics, downbeat grooves, cosmic jazz, Funk, and all manner of electronic noodlings, both of this Earth and from deep space. Having watched the clip the music does seem to fit nicely and I'd love to see the entire film.

     - Jerry Kranitz, Aural Innovations

Soundtracks to documentary films hardly rank in the 'must seek' factor but this little affair from Mexico is a notable exception. With the likes of Panoptica, Marcos Fernandes and Point Loma on board 'Frontier Life' acts as a fitting introduction to the country's fruitful electronica scene. It all starts with Discar, a hollow echo, a gently muted piano and an atmospheric setting marked 'moody,' From then on in there's the occasional moment (Notably Clorofila's'"El Animal') that startles you from your nervy slump into tense paranoia and sends you a new spin, but for the most part it's a tussle of edgy, enticing electronica.

And it's good stuff too! It might have taken us a long time to realise it, but Mexico truly has some choice offerings at present.

     - Steve Mclay, DJ mag

"Frontier Life" is a feature length documentary film by HANS FJELLESTAD, showing life along the border around the San Diego area. It's kinda hard to comment on a film one has not seen, but this album, utilising the talents from both sides, stands alone as a curious, intriguing and entertaining documentary of the palatable experimentalism happening in that area. There's nothing here which might fall into some clichéd idea of what hybrid American-Mexican music might sound like - few if any Folk references (CLOROFILA being the only obvious exception, and their sound references elsewhere in the globe), very little mainstream Spanish sound - this is solid, rich, full-blooded music taking reference points from our increasingly complex multi-cultural multiverse.

The sound varies in approach from blip and boom electro rhythms, through compelling danceable ditties full of a rich smile culture attitude, to rolling sheets of ambient soundscape, warm and inviting, rather than Isolationist.

The album is an eye-opener on the talents residing in the area - those of you who read reviews will be aware of the ACCRETIONS / TRUMMERFLORA COLLECTIVE musicians and their various projects, but it's surprising to see other composers and performers in the San Diego area are not only in possession of an equal talent, but can now and again blow TRUMMERFLORA's panoply of ability out of the water.

CLOROFILA's entry, f'rinstance, has such a dynamic danceability that you hardly think about what the musical structure is. I feel it's a Frankenstein hybrid of Cajun, Jungle (in both the atmospheric Tribal beat sense, and percussively, the Drum 'n Bass sense), and a rich studio-spawned electronica, liberally laced in effects without taking anything away from the jolly upbeat core. More a celebration of life than a piece of music to analyse. A poor show that there's only one track included on the collection - but then another façet may reveal flaws and weaknesses.

In a more mainstream electronica vein, LAS CAJAS DEL RITMO play a nice piece of busy-but-relaxing ambient wallpaper, reminding me more of the kind of thing coming out of the EXPERIMENTAL SEAFOOD RECORDS label in the UK - building on complex drum patterns and busy synth lines. PANÓPTICA again visit familiar territory - a cerebral brew of Click 'n Cut rhythms like dance music in some evolutionary stage between raw circuitry malfunction and mainstream dance. They're unafraid of using raw electronic sounds and broken click percussion. LATINSIZER too manage to create a textured polyrhythmic amalgam which is at once passive and warm while being erect and alert enough to make for bright brain music. If this music had a tactile equivalent, it would be soft warm velvet.

The two oddballs in this collection are MARCOS FERNANDES' "Bullets For Ballots" - lifted from the "Hybrid Vigor" album - with it's slow languid drugged wasp crawl rhythm which transmutes into some dreamstate Jazz workout, threatening to break free while always held within the rigid confines of the 'Twin Peaks' - like sequence. And

The less structured, more ambient and experimental works come from HANS FJELLESTAD, drifting whine-works which enwrap the listener in cossetting warmth. POINT LOMA add their gradually evolving piece which seems to encapsulate a passive rhythmic piece within a biosphere of filtered noise, a elliptic balloon of peace wrapped around a less sedate structure.

If nothing else, this is a useful album for hearing what is going on in the San Diego area. They say it's a small world, and this is further proof that 'they' are right - most of this material could have been recorded anywhere. Having said which, this is from the heart - the genuine article, rather than some jumped bandwagon facsimile.

     - Antony Burnham, metamorphic journeyman

Hans Fjellestad has made a film about life in Tijuana - particularly apparently cars, music and wastewater - and members of the San Diego's Trummerflora (see many Accretions and related reviews, 4 in the last issue) together with Tijuanian Nortec collective are on the soundtrack.

Discar open proceedings with 'Iofobia' where a skittery electronica leads to deep tones, bass, piano and synth loops and a relaxed rhythm with occasional other noises. An enigmatic beat drops in, the track builds, adding sax, but remaining loose. A long rhythm loop with little tones over gradually builds in 'Aquasnegras en dub' (Panoptica), some passing burrs and shakers added but very much dominated by the rhythm and a slow melody, echoey bloops at the end being the 'dub'.

The difference between the two collectives is suggested as Titicacaman's 'Palacio' starts: a slow beat loop with a weird off key melody, a tikka beat then tones that become complex and warbly (like processed pan-pipe samples) with little break, like a deviant South American folklorica. San Diego trends more towards the experimental, Tijuana the beaty techno. Though 'El animal' shows a bit of the overlap as Clorofila process some vocals with a choral plug-in then the eponymous beast enters on tuba with a very rhythmic loop and some computer tweaks, but a very carnivalesque mood.

Long siney tones, with some twittering and crackles over becomes deeper with tappy blurts and miscellaneous pulsing, eventually staticy voices emerging in Fjellestad's 'Phone damage'. In 'Com Com' "as Cajas del Ritmo lay down a rapid techno with scratching over that mutates into a slower piece with keyborad pulses half way. Then, as Latinsizer the same two artists create an edgy electronica with bass and synth waves with a slow beat, culminating in a cow-bell solo.

A short piece from Panoptica ('Camposanto') has sliding blurts and a rhythm that breaks into a choppy cd-jumping random computer mid-section. 'Rubiconga' sees Latinsizer return with a more spacious piece based around echoing keys, hollow tapping and a sexy beat. Marcos Fernandes goes a different direction in 'Bullets for ballots' that opens quietly with atmospheric shakers, piano and flute and then moves into a verse/chorus structure - though the verse is comprised of various talking samples and nature sounds over the atmospherics and the chorus is provided by some slightly screechy sax and modernist piano. The drums have shifted to a slow jazz beat, and there was a dreamy Twin-Peaks feel.

Then along comes Point Loma with 'Ensemble circuits' to undermine my simplistic dichotomy, as it builds some soft atmospheric drones into a swirling drone with high blips (some quite piercing) and slow key pulse. Abstracted voice loops pass by, a thunder which builds to a series of tribal drumming loops and the whole rocks along as the voices return, some guitar and deep pulses - ending right on the border. Finally 'Unico amor' has a vent-like whoosh, adds distorted music (violin, possibly singing), a rumble and machines/drums - all sounding like they have been recorded through the distorting vent. Radulovitch balances the music/machine, the rumble winning initially but then the samples taking the fore - an orchestral band and then finally and most clearly some kitschy singing.

The two elements - the rhythm/techno of Tijuana (which is not excessive but more obvious in contrast) and the San Diego experimenta (which is not confronting) - come together, meshing either within tracks or between them to create a top album. The overlay is such that it should appeal to quite diverse markets - and if Accretions aren't careful they may have a hit on their hands. Very nice.

And I wonder if we'll ever see the film down here?

     - Jeremy Keens, Ampersand, Etc.

After releasing their groundbreaking premier album where techno beats meetraditional Mexican instruments sampled from their native Tijuana barrio, it is great to hear them continuing down the path of change and bringing in more of the acoustic instruments into the mix as well as pushing the envelope of electronic blips, blops and ambient clusters. Fantastic to watch them on the screen as well, adapting and evolving their own unique vision at the club scene with beautiful images projected behind. The movie is fantastic as well which documents their collective scene with musicians and artists and writers and brew meisters opening up and giving insight into the inspiration behind it all, including the hot rod drag strip speedraces on the streets of Tijuana.

     - Joey Burns, Dusted Magazine

Originale colonna sonora del documentario 'Frontier Life' prodotto e diretto da Hans Fjellestad alla scoperta della città di Tijuana che, isolata sia a sud che a nord, ha sviluppato una sua particolare cultura. E la musica è stata curata dal Nortec Collective (=Norteño-Techno, Tech-Mex) di Tijuana, che non è una band o un gruppo ma una vera e ropria estetica di musica elettronica; dal Trummerflora Collective di San Diego, gruppo indipendente dedicato alla musica sperimentale e improvvisata di cui fa parte lo stesso Fjellestad, artista multimediale che opera nel sud della California; e da altri artisti esploratori delle borderlands come Las Cajas del Ritmo, Titicacaman, Latinsizer, Discar, Point Loma, Marcelo Radulovich e Marcos Fernandes. dalla più libera e spinta esplorazione sonora di'Iofobia' (Discar), alle tensioni di 'Phone Damage' (Hans Fjellestad) che sarebbe piaciuta molto a Stanley Kubrick, allo space sound che si trasforma in una danza tribale di 'Ensemble Circuits' (Point Loma) e al patchwork di 'Bullets for Ballots' (Marcos Fernandes) che invece sarebbe piaciuta a David Lynch, si va alle inclusioni etniche di 'El Animal' (Clorofilla) e di 'Unico Amor' (Marcelo Radulovich) e ai giochi ritmici di 'Aguasnegras en Dub' (Panóptica)e di 'Rubiconga' (Latinsizer).

     - Marco Paolucci, Kathodik

The soundtrack to Hans Fjellestad's documentary Frontier Life mirrors the film by diving past the surface image of Tijuana to find the hidden culture that has arisen on the frontier. Members of Tijuana's Nortec Collective and San Diego's Trummerflora Collective contribute music created especially for the film. Drum machines, samplers and synth sounds combine to create quirky, bubbly bits of electro and edgy ambience, with the connections to the norteño country music heritage well-hidden within the rhythmic patterns. Great music that is more laptop than Latin.

     - Fitz Gitler, XLr8R

Frontier Life is the name of a film by San Diego avant-garde composer and filmmaker Fjellestad, in which the multi-faceted artist attempts to capture the subterranean world of Tijuana, Mexico beyond the surface textures and superficial "aura of menace" associated with the city across the border from a rather (some might say menacing) wealthy northern neighbour. Borders are always visually and aurally interesting places to explore the osmosis of ideas and exchange of goods - a process that's not always reciprocal. Here, the Trummerflora Collective San Diego - to which Fjellestad belongs - collaborate with the Nortec Collective from Tijuana, previously known for bringing together rare, experimental sound creators marrying Tex-Mex sounds with traditional norteno music. This project aspires to redress the imbalances of cultural production and exchange in its own modest way. The tracks are remarkably minimalist, feeling more like visual tableaux than set compositions. It pleasantly throws one off, in terms of what might be typically expected of a documentary about porous borders and dusty Mexican cities. "Bullets for Ballots" is a rather Negativland-like composition with its aural commentary in Spanish, pian tinkerings and pitter-patter electronic sounds. "El Animal" is suggestive of the norteno-techno sounds of the Tijuana collective. "Palacio" has an oddly na•ve cadence with its steady beats and fairy-tale sparkling sounds. It is like letting a toddler loose on a Moog synthesizer and hearing the surprising, delightful results. This is seriously experimental territory and so curious in parts, it makes one want to watch the documentary. A good effect, undoubtedly and a sign of more delightful things to come from the Nortec collective.

     - Vinita Ramani, Exclaim! Canada

Th' city of Tijuana ('ccording to th' liner notes) is th' "star" of this album... many different bands featured here, way too many to itemize. This is only our second review of an "Accretions" label release (we reviewed one by Marcelo Radulovich in issue # 58); starting to like the label a lot. This particular CD is th' soundtrack for a documentary film (about Tijuana) of the same name. There is all the adventure you might imagine when thinking about a "border town"; but, there's something else, too - a real sense of "strange", in a futuristic sense... lots of beats, electronic manipz & things different than you might expect. Certainly makes me want to review the MOVIE (hint, hint). The music is pretty much unclassifiable, certainly doesn't fit into any pigeonholes. Less Latino flavoring than I expected, much more rhythhm oriented. A well recorded album that gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us, especially if you want to hear something that speaks of strangers in strange lands.

     - Rodtod ZZaj, Improvijazzation Nation

Frontier Life: Banda Sonora ist der Soundtrack zum gleichnamigen Dokumentarfilm. Musiker aus dem Trummerflora und dem Nortec Collective und weitere Electronic/Jazz Musiker haben ihre Untermalung für den Film eingespielt, die auf dieser CD gesammelt wird. Die stilistische Schere geht weit auf. Zwischen netten, ambienten Dance-Spielereien und Jazz spielen sich die 12 Songs in 76 Minuten ab. Trotz aller Ambition ist stets klar, dass es sich um Filmmusik handelt. Es passiert nicht allzuviel, es gibt keine großen Themenwechsel oder schwere Klangfülle. Die "magere" Tonkulisse wird dennoch erstaunlich genutzt. Leider jedoch geben einige Stücke den billigen Techno-Rhythmus wieder, der zwar aussergewöhnlich melodiert wird, aber doch lähmend und hässlich klingt. "Iofobia" von Discar ist ein witziges Stück mit markantem Keyboardglockenton, wie alle folgenden Stücke ambient und lyrisch. Im späteren Verlauf ertönt der billige Rhythmus und ein (echtes?) Saxophon phrasiert wiederkehrend eine Jazznotiz. "Aguasnegras en Dub" von Panóptica ist ein verspielt-episches Electronic-Stück mit gebrochenem Beat. "Palacio" von Titicaman mit gänzlich anderer Stimmung ist ein perfekter Soundtrack. Ruhelose Tonphrasen gleiten durch ein elektronisches Universum. "El Animal" von Clorofila klingt noch am ehesten nach Mainstream. Die rhythmischen Spielereien finden ganz schnell zu einem fetten Technobeat. "Phone Damage" von Hans Fjellestad vibriert monoton auf dunkler Ebene, ein geradezu avantgardistisches Stück. Rhythmus findet vordergündig nicht statt. Das ist ein exquisit gesetztes Tonfragment, das mal wie eine Tropfsteinhöhle und mal wie eine Schlosserwerkstatt klingt und doch absolute Ruhe ausstrahlt. "Com Com" darauf von Las Cajas del Ritmo reizt rhythmische und melodische Tonfetzen avantgardistisch aus. Sehr schön! "Falling Peni" von Latinsizer findet sich im Technopop wieder. Zwar engagiert und ausdrucksstark melodiert, aber doch mit simplem Rhythmus. "Camposanto", wieder von Panóptica scheint ein Tropfengewitter zu sein, das Angst macht, die Boxen zu zerstören. Als würde eine Horde Flöhe über ein elektronisches Schlagzeug laufen und willkürliche Töne fabrizieren, die damit fast Schmerzen auslösen! "Rubiconga" ist das zweite Stück von Latinsizer. Fragmentarische Tonnotizen erläutern einen ambienten, düsteren Raum, den schnell ein vordergründiges und billiges Rhythmusthema einnimmt. Marcos Fernandes ist Meister im percussiven Sammeln von Tönen, Collagen, Stimmen und allerlei Alltagsgeräuschen, die er mit melodischen Motiven vermixt und daraus eine ganz eigene Musiksprache bildet. "Bullets for Ballots" sammelt Stimmen, Free Jazz, ein karges Schlagzeug und ein melodisches Konglomerat, das wie die Töne aus der Mittelwelle klingen, elektronsich verstärkt und seltsam anmutend, wie elefantengroße Ameisen. "Ensemble Circuits" von Point Loma is Space Electronic. Kratzig verschnörkelte Tonfiguren rasen durch ein endloses Weltall, die rhythmische Begleitung kommt aus dem Off, dunkel, tief, hintergründig, wie eine Maschine im Orbit, die sich voranpumpt. Ein weiterer Sammler von Alltagsgeräuschen ist Marcelo Radulovich. "Unico Amor" ist der ambienteste Lärm, den ich je gehört habe. Tonschleifen wälzen sich aneinander, von hell verhallten Glocken und Kettensägen rhythmisch untermauert, wie ein Sägewerk, das aus dem Koma wahrgenommen wird (ich habe keine Ahnung, ob das geht). Dieser tonale Berg wälzt sich heran, überstülpt den Hörer, wechselt weit im dem Off einige Kirchenchorstimmen ein und läßt einen Scherbenhaufen ausklingen, an den sich ein Radio mit einem brasilianischen Schlager anschließt, verfremdet, verhallt, zerrissen, versteht sich. Accretions ist ein Label, das sich ungewöhnlicher Klänge annimmt. Electro Avantgarde, Jazz und neue Töne, Alltagstöne mischt das Label auch auf dieser Veröffentlichung genial. Der Film wird durch die Musik berauscht, zur Stille gebracht. Hans Fjellestad, der den Dokumentarfilm gedreht hat und auch Musik dazu beiträgt, wird demnächst mit Film + Musik touren. Das ist eine Empfehlung wert.

     - Volkmar Mantei, Ragazzoni music

Top 5 Current Disquiet Favorites - #1. [ Added: January 31, 2003 ] A Follow-up from the Nortec Collective, and Friends: The soundtrack to Frontier Life (Accretions Records), a documentary about Tijuana directed by Hans Fjellestad, is an unofficial sequel to the Nortec Collective's 2001 album, Tijuana Sessions, Vol. 1. The Sessions collection made many folk's top-10 lists that year with its assortment of the city's digital-dance acts, including Fussible, Terrestre and Hiperboreal. Frontier Life crosses the border by mixing Nortec acts with those of San Diego's Trummerflora Collective. In many ways, it's a better record than Tijuana Sessions: darker, deeper, never remotely frivolous. The act Panoptica, which was downright house-y on Sessions, is decisively downbeat -- make that downtrodden -- here, on a song titled "Aguasnegras en Dub." To say the track is stripped down understates how much was left behind. The track is hard and slow, a heavy downbeat that leaves behind an opening trill in favor of concerted, sullen, punch-in-the-gut beats. By the end the music has splintered into a lonely echo chamber. And the Panoptica track's length, at close to seven minutes, gives the act (a pseudonym for Roberto Mendoza) a lot of space in which to make those musical transitions.

Discar's "Iofobia," the album's opening song, fulfills the desire for spaghetti-Western drama. And "Com Com," by Las Cajas del Ritmo, brings a border-party feel to the kind of ascetic pointillism we've come to expect from Japanese aesthetes like Ryoji Ikeda and minimal-house stars like Plastikman. Director Fjellestad provides some beautiful ambient background music with his "Phone Damage," a tenuously held together array of found sounds and held tones. The same could be said of "Ensemble Circuits," a slightly more invasive bit of minimalism credited to Point Loma. Not that you can't dance to all of Frontier Life, but even the most rhythmically straightforward tracks, like Clorofila's "El Animal," have a sense of purpose that keeps them from becoming lounge fodder.

     - Disquiet

Keeping score - Soundtracks can be more than mere bad pop collections-no, really

Hans Jorgen Fjellestad's documentary on Tijuana is bolstered by an ace soundtrack. This should come as no surprise for electronic-music fans: About four years ago, the city came up with nortec, an exciting hybrid that brings together norteño (Mexican country music) and techno. But while Clorofila's buoyant "El Animal" is a superior example of a nortec track, most of the soundtrack explores the further reaches of techno and laptop ambience. Las Cajas del Ritmo's "Com Com," for instance, is a perfect slice of minimal techno that wouldn't be out of place on a Kompakt compilation, while Panóptica's "Camposanto" manages to be hypnotic while messing up your synapses with njections of laptop white noise. This CD opens up a whole new field of exploration for lovers of electronic adventure.

     - Elisabeth Vincentelli, Time Out NYC

8 out of 10
Goes Well With: Nortec Collective, Hans Fjellstad, Pan Sonic

Anytime a heavily-armed fence separates a third world from a superpower, the cultural stew that emerges will be ripe in contrast: a cultural ovary that's contstantly being fertilized from different cultures and classes. Local San Diego filmmaker and avant garde musician Hans Fjellstad created the documentary Frontier Life late last year, an artist's take on the border region. The "soundtrack," Banda Sonora, features collaboration between Fjellstad's ominous noisemaking Trummerflora Collective and Tijuana's Nortec Collective, whose blend of techno and indigenous Mexican music has reaped praise from the likes of the New York Times.

Banda Sonora is an electronica-based soundscape that manages to invoke grandeur and danger without relying on traditional score devices like strings and orchestras. The 12 tracks aren't songs as much as technological pulsations, heavy on bass and computer glitches.

Tijuana contributes songs like Panoptica's dubby wasteland, "Aguasnegras en Dub," and the ramshackle Nortec romp of "El Animal" from Clorofia. Trummerflora contributes the tone epic "Phone Damage" (Fjellstad) and the Spanish-speaking sample skronk orchestra of "Bullets for Ballots" (Marcos Fernandes), among others.

Ominous and sprawling, it's a fascinating collaboration between two left field groups separated by politics, culture and people with guns.

     - Troy Johnson, San Diego City Beat

Frontier Life' is a soundtrack created by the Tijuana based electronica outfit Nortec Collective and San Diego based avant jazz crew Trummerflora Collective, for a movie of the same name which explores this idiosyncratic city which lies on the border of North and South America.

The music itself describes a place that is at the cusp of the traditional and the modern and has managed to merge together a diverse set of influences. The tracks are provided by the individuals and duos rather than by the entire collectives, making for a very varied set of sounds.

Starting track 'Iofobia' by the Beas Brothers, is a loping piece of dubby minimalism which crawls through a murky world of piano chords, low strings and weird and wonderful sounds dropped in at odd moments.

From here the album unfolds into many different directions, stopping at'Aquasnegras en Dub' by Panoptica, a typically sparse slice of digital exotica, and 'Palacio' by Titicaman, a more layered exploration of electronic discordance which soundslike sheets of sound being fed through a shedder.

Slightly feistier are tracks like Clorafila's 'El Animal', a slightly staccato collage thatblends folkish accordion, trumpet and plodding house with some steel drum sounds, manipulated synth and a zest for adventure.

Oddly enough, 'Frontier Life' doesn't carry any traditional cinematic elements to it - no epic moods, sweeping strings or filmic arrangements - but it is an innovative and intriguing collection of tunes, even if it doesn't get much above deep-sleep speed. 8/10

     - Paul Sullivan,

Frontier Life is a documentary by Hans Fjellestad who, besides trying to film the border town of Tijuana under a different light, is also an avant-garde composer and member of the Trummerflora Collective, an experimental circle based in San Diego. This soundtrack album is the result of a collaboration across the USA-Mexico border between Trummerflora artists and members of the Nortec Collective (based in Tijuana). The music is mostly in the electronica vein, minimal techno and experimental dub forming its core with contributions from artists like Panóptica, Clorofila and Latinsizer. The latter manages to integrate Mexican folk culture into its techno without it sounding kitsch or forced -- a rare feat. But the best music comes from those who push things further. Fjellestad's own "Phone Damage" is a very fine layering of odd ambiances. Point Loma's "Ensemble Circuits," slow-developing and ethereal, also scores points, but Marcos Fernandes steals the disc with "Bullets for Ballots" a strong composition for percussion, sampler, piano, flute and saxophone topped by sharp political audio-verite. The fact that it relies less on electronics make it stand out even more. Frontier Life: Banda Sonora covers a large spectrum of music and your appreciation of it will depend mostly on the width of your musical interests.

     - François Couture, All Music Guide

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