Modulations

B
September 18, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

In Iara Lee’s heady documentary, Modulations, about the rise of electronic dance music, a parade of mix masters, DJs, and postmodern synthetic noisemakers chart the formation of what might be called the Aesthetic of the Holy Drum Track: the transformation of the contemporary nightclub experience into a tribal ritual of ecstatic tunelessness. Interviewing everyone from synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog to inheritors like Moby and Future Sound of London (whose members agree to speak only via computer), Lee documents the way that techno, house, and their various offshoots evolved out of the Jacuzzi pulsations of the original electronic dance hit, Donna Summer’s ”I Feel Love,” through the automaton chic of Kraftwerk and the visionary samplings of Afrika Bambaataa’s ”Planet Rock.” Modulations is sprightly and engrossing, yet there are one too many bits in which some overexcited scenester recalls the seismic moment when ”rave turned into jungle,” and so forth. The movie is haunted by a question it never dares to ask — namely, is the techno revolution, with its near abolishment of melody and harmonic architecture, truly a pop advance, or is it the soundtrack for a newly depersonalized youth culture in which joy has become inseparable from robotic submission? B

Modulations

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Modulations

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