Bill Laswell is just a little bit more than your typical art-rock, hip-hop, ambient, dub, indie-rock, funk and world-beat producer, remix artist and megamusician. He could also claim to be one of the world's most visionary and technology-friendly bassists. His sonic experimentation has appeared on well over 100 albums by such artists as Laurie Anderson, Yoko Ono, David Byrne, John Zorn, Fred Frith, Peter Gabriel and Iggy Pop, as well as by more avant-garde groups like Material (the original Daevid Allen backup band), The Golden Palominos, Praxis and Last Exit. The fact that a good portion, in this case four CDs' worth, of his personal sound library has been made public makes me think that Laswell either has more sounds than he knows what to do with or that he has decided it is time to reinvent himself, yet again, by cooking up a fresh batch of fearless beats, deep basses and other miscellaneous bits of music for the mind.
The Bill Laswell Collection ($199) is broken into four volumes: False Encryptions, Undocument, Letter of Law and Covert Diaspora. Although Laswell may seem preoccupied, even paranoid, about remaining underground, musically, it is where he lives. Each of the first three CDs is available individually, whereas Covert Diaspora is a two-CD 24-bit library and can only be obtained by purchasing the box set. Each of the four volumes contains loops, one-shots and construction kits classified by style: Ambient, Electronica, Hip-Hop, Rock/Funk and World. The categories are wide, and as you might expect, Laswell goes for broke in delivering the full gamut. For instance, the Electronica folders contain drum 'n' bass, jungle, dub and Laswell's own brand called Noise. Inside each style folder, you'll find several instrument subfolders, which vary according to the style. For example, you'll find bass, guitar, FX, drums and percussion in the Funk/Rock section, but the World group is made up of ethnic instruments such as tabla, didger-idoo, conga, talking drum and so forth (depending on which CD you choose).
Surprisingly, Laswell's signature bass loops appear in limited, but carefully selected, quantities compared with the wide scope of guitar, drum, percussion and ambient sounds. Although the recording levels, production styles and sound qualities vary from loop to loop, I was able to make original-sounding rhythm beds and Laswellian sonic landscapes in no time. (Note: Like many Sonic Foundry releases, the accompanying documentation is void of tempo and key info. However, programs such as Ableton's Live, Cakewalk's Sonar and Sonic Foundry's Acid Pro specialize in time synchronization and are perfect platforms for this group of CDs.)
The bottom line is, Laswell has done a masterful job of capturing the essential components of the music he has made during the past decade or so. Whereas many producers spend their lives looking for original and distinctive sounds that set them apart from the crowd, in his own personal collection, Laswell delivers the sonic proof of his most renowned genres, which should turn both the ambient music fan and the world's dub contingent on its collective ear.