by Nathan Springer (@drownloading)
Earlier this year, Philadelphia tape label Nino Tomorrow dropped it’s first release, a split (also called Nino Tomorrow) by label founders Ada Babar (Wilt, Suffer Dragon) and Kasra Kurt (Palm). That album was a 50% weird as hell/ 50% catchy as hell MIDI-infested musical rabbit hole. Their newest release, which the pair stumbled across on the “no obi no insert” Youtube channel, is a look back to 1987, when experimental/ambient composer Ditto released In Human Terms, an album that shares a remarkably similar palette to Ada and Kasra’s explorations despite being released thirty years prior.
Written, performed, and mixed by Charles Ditto (the performed credit is also listed as “MIDI ensemble” on Discogs), In Human Terms was self-released through Charles’ Ditto Records in 1987 and followed by Texas Electric in 1989, after which no further recordings were released. This album is a fascinating document of relatively early MIDI experimentation, but is not worth listening to for novelty alone; it is a beautiful, meditative voyage from start to finish. Opener “Pop” is fittingly titled; it’s the catchiest and most accessible piece on the album, riding on a pretty keyboard loop for most of it’s 3 minutes while building in rhythmic complexity. This is followed by “Bush”, which sounds like an underground/cave level in a Super Nintendo game, and “Urban”, which is slightly unsettling with its MIDI vocals and woozy keys. The remainder of the A-side (or “high side”) of the album continues in it’s mix of lightheartedness and unease, but the “low side” shifts gears slightly and becomes even more droning, focusing less on percussive and rhythmic elements and adding live horns on a handful of tracks. Penultimate track “Christmas Before the War” is a highlight, letting the textures of the MIDI instrumentation take the forefront, while closer “Basso Continuo” is the longest and most minimal piece on the album.
It always takes me aback to realize how cyclical music and culture is; In Human Terms was released in 1987, but sounds like it could have come out this year. As musical culture becomes simultaneously more and more niched and interconnected, it is always nice to discover an old hidden gem of an album that can be appreciated in our time, possibly more so than in the period in which it was initially released, and cast some light back onto it. This album makes me excited for Nino Tomorrow to dig up some more under-appreciated works, or to release works by artists working in a similar vein today.