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Originally published Monday, February 22, 2010 at 7:01 PM

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Four Tet crafts a musical love letter to technology

Britain's Kieran Hebden, who performs under the name Four Tet, brings a refined brand of electronic music to Seattle's Chop Suey Feb. 23.

Special to The Seattle Times

On the Internet

Four Tet: www.myspace.com/fourtetkieranhebden.

Nightclub preview

Four Tet

With Nathan Fake and eR Don at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Chop Suey, 1325 E. Madison, Seattle; $12-$14 (206-324-8005 or www.chopsuey.com).

Electronic music continues to mature into an upstanding member of the musical community; savvy listeners continue to welcome it as such.

Like any fledgling genre that just wants you to dance, electronic music was initially met by the orthodoxy with disdain (see: rock, jazz and hip-hop). A half-century of evolution later, you're reading glowing features about luminaries like Britain's Kieran Hebden in mainstream press such as this.

Hebden — who performs at Capitol Hill's Chop Suey on Tuesday under the name Four Tet — crafts rich, romantic music out of samples and drum loops. His primary instruments are a laptop computer and Roland sampler. These machines offer a virtually limitless sonic palette: A guitar strum, for instance, can be sampled and then sculpted beyond recognition until it's something unprecedented and unrecognizable. Meshed over a sampled, sculpted drumbeat — Hebden, a disciple of free jazz, often uses real drums as a starting point — the result is hypnotic, alchemical.

But a limitless palette is both key and shackle, access point and alienating indulgence. The challenge, as a producer, is knowing where to stop. This is Hebden's gift: His music is attuned to the space around the note as much as the note itself.

So you see what Hebden, as the auteur behind "There Is Love in You," has in common with Miles Davis and "Kind of Blue."

Released last month on Domino Records, "There Is Love in You" is Hebden's fifth album (coming after a series of live and recorded collaborations with iconic soul-jazz drummer Steve Reid). It's an understated love letter to technology and the human ingenuity that manipulates it — equally spiritual and carnal, calm and effusive.

Lead single "Love Cry" — its title a nod to free jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler — is a nine-minute mantra that builds slowly from buzzing, hair-on-the-projector distortion into a deeply propulsive dance-floor instigator. Here, and later at the peak of "Sing," the music extends further into the throbbing four-four rhythms of house music than Four Tet's abstract early work. (Proposition: Dancing is meditation.)

Aptly titled, "This Unfolds" reveals the warmth that, in the right hands, can be wrought from cold electronics, its elegant digital chimes and squelches chased by hand-slapped tambourine. Sounds are decidedly organic — especially kit drum and percussion — but also unmistakably synthetic, too wonderfully inscrutable to attribute to any familiar instrument. This stuff is tasteful, refined, but not without edge.

Four Tet's music justifies profound statements like this one: Beauty lies not in infinite possibility but in a single correct choice.

Jonathan Zwickel: zwickelicious@gmail.com

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