Rhythm, Not Algorithm 

SF's avant-electronic guru Sutekh avoids both the overintellectual and the overly violent.

The words "experimental electronic dance music" conjure up a stuffy, academic image for many people, but SF artist Seth Horvitz is eager to avoid the classroom stigma. "I never liked the idea of a composition requiring an essay to be appreciated," says Horvitz, who composes under the name Surekh. "Too many algorithmic MIDI-marimba patterns generated by neural networks can really bring a person down. I was more interested in a playful, exploratory approach to sound and music."

The name "Sutekh" won't strike Egyptian mythology enthusiasts as "playful," though: Horvitz took his name from the god of winds, storms, and the evil spirit of destruction and disorder. He's a nice guy, though, honest: Based mostly in the Bay Area since 1991, Horvitz has steadily cranked out music that segues effortlessly from intricate beat tapestries to more cerebrally inclined concrète collage -- a marked contrast to the implications of his namesake, unless you count abused computers and wrecked decks as casualties. Born Again (Leaf), the double-disc collection of remixes that gathers material dating back to 1999, is his most recent and more aptly titled effort, locking in on the nature of the remix itself as a method for rebirthing familiar tracks into a new context.

However, as Horvitz' first long-player since 2002's Incest Live, it also presents a man experienced from years of crafting both hard-driving dancefloor bangers and more pensive and nuanced sound design. And with two full-lengths, a mix CD, and a film score in the works, the title could just refer to a musician ready to broaden his palette.

"I think Born Again shows how much the idea of a 'remix' has changed over the years, from simply extending an original to completely reinterpreting it," Horvitz explains. The set's 23 tracks comb the originals for source material, but also solicit new bits and pieces of sound and ultimately flaunt equal parts propulsive thump and lucid ambience. The differences between the remix subjects he tackles (ranging from Norwegian chanteuse Hanne Hukkelberg to minimal tech-house savant Alva Noto) also highlight the depth of Horvitz' original work, which capably and comfortably switches between dissonance and rhythmic steps.

"It's interesting to hear people's reactions to my music, because some say that it all carries a common signature, and others call it disparate," he says. "I think it's best when people can't quite figure out what to make of it."

With little musical training, a variety of factors influenced Horvitz' early material -- everything from his love of hip-hop, punk, and industrial music as an adolescent to the early '90s SF rave scene and his stint as a DJ at KALX. Lately, however, Horvitz has further refined his approach by drastically limiting it. His work as a composer for the forthcoming film Pathogen forced him to toil under an unfamiliar constraint: the rigid time codes of film scores. "Most of the material is being created for scenes lasting anywhere from a few seconds up to a couple of minutes, and the music has to follow the action of the screen very closely," he explains. "It's a real challenge to compose for such specific moods and sequences of events."

Similarly, he has also been exploring new options when it comes to his original tracks, exploring the depths of the classical and jazz canons in order to push his own sounds forward. His two forthcoming albums will thus accommodate an even wider array of sounds, with baroque and Gypsy music rubbing up on the expected techno influences. "More than ever, my ideas are all over the place," he says. "So the trick will be to figure out how to make it all fit together."

But next up is Context Unravelled, a mix that gathers tracks from the sixteen releases on Horvitz' own Context label, an imprint that has designed and promoted work from the likes of Murcof, Safety Scissors, and Kit Clayton. More than just showing off Seth's DJ skills, the mix frames Context's work and creates a narrative for some wildly varying sounds. It's the first confident step in a year that will undoubtedly reveal Sutekh as more than just a malevolent, MIDI-marimba-wielding Egyptian deity.

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