Tagged: beats

Three Shades of Black

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Kangding Ray
The Pentaki Slopes
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 145 12″ VINYL (2012)

Twilight soundscaper David Letellier steps inscrutably into play with this low, throbbing 12”. The more recent LP ‘Solens Arc’ hasn’t quite gelled for me; its fusion of skin-tingling industrial futurism and more staid excursions into tepid 90s techno leaving me hot and cold in intervals, so this small serving from 2012 – effectively a distillation of that album’s more illustrious attributes – is a welcome morsel indeed. These three tracks wade through a viscous black nightscape that shivers slowly in a cold wind that harbours troubling news. Opener ‘North’ is the dancefloor number (or best approximation of one), hopping to with an outlandish, strut and menacing, midnight mystery air. Emaciated to ‘Sine O’The Times’ slenderness (Kode9, not Prince) is the woozy growling, three-minute bridge ‘Plateau (A Single Source of Truth)’, while the closer, ‘South’ takes all the time in the world (well, ten minutes of it) in unfolding its lurching bass and flourishing synths to get as proggy as this guy’s ever going to.

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Peder Mannerfelt
Lines Describing Circles
USA DIGITALIS RECORDINGS DIGIV066 (2014)

Crushing the unworthy underfoot with a similar ruthlessness, Peder Mannerfelt’s muscular rhythmic constructions skirt between the serrated, cerebral abrasiveness of noise-techno architects such as Emptyset and Techno Animal and the anaesthetized breaths of Gas and Porter Ricks; all the while driven by a deeply satisfying current of bulldozing sub-bass. Good company would Mannerfelt find on the Raster Noton label, with whose artists he shares a similar level of mental stamina: many of his pieces developing over painful minutes in painfully minute and merciless increments. ‘Derrvish’ springs to mind (as I’m listening to it now): a piercing, metronomic swing of dissected airhorn (I think) bedded on a battery of blast beats. Highlights are hard to pick in so varied an assembly, but if ‘Africate Consonants’ offers little optimism, the serrated shreds of its lightning personality are electrifying. And one of the more ‘atmospheric’ interludes, ‘Nihilist 87’ summons a fog of enveloping tension with a combination of distant vehicular beeps and a tension inducing rattle I’d more readily associate with electroacoustic music. Mannerfelt has served time as dub techno purveyor The Subliminal Kid, but since 2012 has released a small number of 12”s (and this album) under his own name. While traces of that trajectory are discernable, apparent is it that ‘Lines Describing Circles’ is something of a bid for renewal. To my shell-shocked ears it’s a fresh sounding debut and a damn impressive one at that.

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Pixel
Mantle
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 139 CD (2013)

More ascetic still, but sparing not the rod, Pixel (aka Jon Egeskov) offers us eight stripped-down, robot dreamscapes woven from webs of static, electromagnetic rays and supra-alphabetical Morse code. To my ears there’s an evident debt to Carsten Nicolai and Mika Vainio, whose shared taste for the impenetrable and only the most necessary ingredients grants him illustrious peerage. Judging by his deadpan portrait on Discogs, the man finds absolution in defibrillating, dissecting and static-swabbing his still-breathing rhythms as they thrashing wild beneath those cool green eyes; an appetite for reduction he exercises without compunction, as on ‘Steel Tape’: a jittering, arrhythmic minimalism that seems ever on the verge of giving up the ghost. The same goes for much of this album, though impressive is the extent of Egeskov’s care in organising so few elements into pieces both sparing and fulfilling, for me in particular on ‘Nesting Screen’: a slow swell of fluctuating sine and static pulses. Interestingly, Egeskov studied saxophone at university, and it is suggested that he imports a ‘swing’ element into these electronic studies. Not something I can readily identify, but clear is it that he possesses a tremendous affinity for metallic objects and their potential for humanisation.

Daft Pop

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Atom TM
HD
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 147 CD

Slick as oil, sumptuous and satirical, Atom™’s latest LP of machined electro-pop music has many antecedents, among whom Alva Noto, Kraftwerk, Prince and all those who follow the slenderest of muses, and to boot he’s probably the most waggish artist on the Raster Noton label. It’s very nice to hear something that diverges from the typically ‘cyborg’ mood of so many of his label mates, as much as I do enjoy their work.

The spirit of play is in full flight in the uptempo bleep march, ‘Empty’ – a monotone parody on ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ – and the Prince-referencing ‘I Love U (Like I Love My Drum Machine)’, though I’ve got to say that having never had much time for Jamie Lidell’s mannered white-soul vocals, this one hasn’t changed my mind any. Same thing with the pixelated cover (with spot-on vocals) of The Who’s much loved/covered ‘My Generation’, for whom there’s doubtless a more appreciative audience.

Still, there’s a point behind all this, wrapped in a blended expression of sincere exaltation at all Atom loves about pop music and mirthful scorn at industry contamination, as in ‘Stop (Imperialist Pop)’. In either respect, the message is never grating, and the music – as lacking in bloat as pop music could ever be – carries it well. There’s also a fair amount of inconspicuous euro-techno-pop to be had – the sparing synth n’drum machine voyage of ‘Riding the Void’ for one – all delivered nonetheless, with measure and panache. The nine-song set concludes with a pleasing Kraftwerk tribute, ‘Ich Bin Meine Maschine’ (featuring Carsten Nicolai), which has also been issued as a 12” single with a tasty remix by Function, and is also worth your free time and hard-earned.

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Unicorn Hard-On
Weird Universe
AUSTRIA SPECTRUM SPOOLS SP030 LP (2013)

While sporting one of the more outlandish sobriquets in the realm, the electro-pop concern Unicorn Hard-On is very much a down to earth affair. Now over a decade in action, this solo project of one Valerie Martino has left its unmistakeable moniker on many a self-released cassette and a fair few live posters over the last few years, and at last her bona fide debut album, Weird Universe. Suitable home it has found on the ever interesting Spectrum Spools label, for whom she’s gone all out it seems: Mechanical ridmicks and red alert surges shepherding us into a well-behaved, noise pop landscape: the inner topography of a lackadaisical sibling to the Fuck Buttons.

Conspicuous are its abundances of colourful, melodic build up, light static shading, wibbly-wobbly modulation and clip-clopping synth-pads, which (alas) remain perpetually averse to fifth gear speeds and the resulting euphoria. Though ‘mostly harmless’ in the main, tracks like ‘Houndstooth’ are perhaps a little too generic for my liking: an elevating tower of bleeps that could easily have been knocked out during the bedroom electronica glut a decade ago. ‘Mysterious Prism’ – the closer – does, however, display pleasing prowess with some filthy, pounding Game Boy electronics, which could well please Crystal Castles fans.

A Better Future

We interviewed Warm Digits in TSP21 in 2012…very pleased to see they are making great inroads and enjoying many successes with their highly enjoyable English form of Kraftwerk-Neu! electronic beat music, appearing at festivals, getting involved in remix projects with assorted big names, and receiving airplay on BBC Radio. Their recent Interchange (DISTRACTION RECORDS DIST28) is a concept piece of sorts, inspired by the construction of the Metro underground in Newcastle in the 1970s 1. Did I mention that the duo Steve Jefferis and Andy Hodson have connections with Newcastle and Manchester…and the record proudly boasts it’s made in those cities, like the brand of a 19th century manufacturer of cast iron pipes. The release is a six-track full length album plus an accompanying DVD for the experimental movie which they made, with help of archival materials from Tyne and Wear Archives. Without a doubt this accomplished release is a knowing attempt to recreate Autobahn for an English listenership, and to my mind is a great success on that account; melodic, romantic, and somehow retaining a uniquely British flavour while remaining true to the precepts of 1970s German electronic music. And of course it’s themed on travel, with an appropriate sense of endless forward-movement to each track (if I drove a car, this would be on repeat play as my drive home music). Superfluous to add, but live drumming is one of their secret weapons; taking a lesson from the percussion pad work of Karl and Wolfgang, drum machines not allowed. A hugely entertaining piece of music with not a single slack moment; every home should have one of these irresistible delights. The video is also a treat; using documentary source material such as photographs and architectural drawings blended with op-art and psychedelic abstractions, they create an impressionistic journey through the construction of the Metro. In this time of pessimism and dourness, it’s a genuine pleasure to experience the thrilling futuristic optimism with which this entire package is saturated 2. If this duo wanted to offer their talents in the creation of modernistic public services films or promotional events, they’d clean up! From 01 July 2013.

  1. The work was produced as part of Half Memory; “artists and musicians working with sound and the moving image were invited to unearth material from the vast collections of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums to inspire new work”.
  2. It’s a kind of retro-future nostalgia for a time when British industry was actually able to do something worthwhile, new and exciting that would benefit the community.

Ominous Green Energy

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Tag Cloud
Winter Hours
USA ZEROMOON ZERO149 CD (2013)

Not to be confused with Boston resident Justin Mayfield’s amateurish but strangely charming “noisy space-core adventures” project of the same name, this Tag Cloud is Washington-based Chris Videll who describes his music as “DIY drone/noise”. He has a previous release on Zeromoon called Named Entities. Videll’s sonic arsenal on Winter Hours is disclosed in the following terms: “…electronics, casio, fx, loops, pitch pipe, shruti box, insomnia…” It’s the first time I’ve heard of insomnia played as an instrument on a recording, and a long time since I’ve noticed a pitch pipe credit but there you go. The first track, ‘Ominous Green Energy’, reminds me of late 90s UK vintage analogue experimentalists Kaleidophon (not to be confused with the 1960/70s production studio of the same name run by White Noise’s Michael Vorhaus), featuring as it does ethereal Casiotone 701-like sounds, nifty backwards rhythms, and plenty of slow, deliberate delay pedal manipulation. The next track, ‘The Past’, also features delay manipulation – it sounds analogue but it could possibly be the sound of guest musician Dan Barbiero’s Geomungo App. A Geomungo, a quick internet search reveals, is a Korean zither. Incidentally, Daniel Barbiero also has releases on Zeromoon. The third piece, ‘Grendel Dub (version)’, is a dim and murky foray into repetitive electro drum programming, possibly sourced from the ubiquitous Casio, combined with droney samples or “loops”. Here, regrettably, at 2am, a fine mist of pointlessness settles over the harbour. I regret to inform you, dear reader, that it was altogether likely that it would put me to sleep, perhaps forever, such was the unchangingly tedious nature of it. And where the dub element came in I’m not sure. Post-Stefan Bettke’s Pole project, I concede that dub has developed in new and interesting ways, but the utter dub invisibility of ‘Grendel’ is not one of them.

Happily, by the fourth track, ‘Years’, things are getting more interesting. Immediately compelling, the gauze is finer and the mist is turning to fog but the welcome lack of rhythmic drive allows thoughts to form more easily and when the bass end does finally emerge – still drone-like – it brought a big smile to my face. Constantly moving and evolving. A short duration this track; one I could have enjoyed over a longer duration for sure. In summary, then, a flawed yet strangely enjoyable album.

Voice of the Beehive

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Got a couple of tapes from the Belgian Tanuki Records label, which is operated by Patrick Thinsy who used to be a member of martiensgohome. To be honest I never cared much for anything I heard from by the mgh collective, so I approach Thinsy’s Disappearances (TANUKI RECORDS #4) with a little trepidation. The A side is a simple experiment in minimalism, operating small variations on a single (very high) monotonous tone; you never heard such a thin and delicate drone in your life, as though he were trying to extend one gram of platinum in a wire so thin it would encircle the earth. High tone on one side, a low tone on the B side; a mysterious grumbling bullfrog making its moan in a forgotten swamp, wheezing like a very restrained old harmonium, until it too becomes an extended tremulous drone, so faint you can barely notice it. It’s likely that both of these simple compositions operate according to a structure; they proceed with an inscrutable methodology, and a basic trajectory is perceivable from start to finish. Not quite achieving the monumentalism of Phill Niblock, but not bad. From 27 February 2013.

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The press notes describe Woodger Speece and Thierry Burnhout as “two very interesting Belgian sound artists”, and 14 Rhythms for Jamilla / This Beehive State (TANUKI RECORDS #3) is their debut. Though not made clear on the release, this appears to be a split and Woodger – who is actually someone named Pauwel de Buck – has four, not fourteen, of his rhythm tracks on the A side, combining strangely attenuated beats with prickly radio static. It’s amazing he gets anything solid out of this unlikely combination of elements, but he persists doggedly until these severe, alienating tones begin to cohere at some level. It’s the kind of music you imagine that small insects, or microbes, would enjoy dancing to on the sub-atomic plane. After ten minutes of this art-minimal reduced Techno buzzery, even Atom TM will sound “over-produced” to your ears. Thierry Burnhout occupies all of Side B with 22 minutes of This Beehive State, which like Thinsy’s above is operating in a droney and floaty area, where the skies are mostly grey and we dance to the whims of the wind. Though de Buck describes him as a “troublemaker”, Burnhout’s abiding mood here is somewhat serene and peaceful; in places, he generates pleasing harmonic passages that inspire a sense of well-being with their rich vibrato and throbbing undercurrents. I just feel it’s scant on ideas; having established one mood, he’s uncertain where to take it next, and he either treads water for too long or runs out of steam at crucial moments.

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Retro 2038 (EDITIONS MEGO 172) from COH is Ivan Pavlov’s immaculate album of futuristic disco-tech minimalism from the later 21st-century or some such…he probably did it using time-travel methods, while also harking back with a fond eye to retro and vintage modes of pulsation and boundage techno music, about which I am ill-informed…one would have to imagine a blueprint or schematic form of graphical score for a super-imaginary work that balances perfectly astride the entire Kraftwerk-Moroder axis, albeit reduced and stripped down so that only small, atomic-sized particles remain for digestion by the hungry biscuit-muncher. I was on safer ground with 2010’s IIRON from this guy, as that was more of a noisy guitar album in the area of intellectual heavy metal. But I can see this well-produced and finely polished set insinuating its way into my system, by dint of its smooth surfaces and inhumanly clean sounds, propelled by crisp and crunchy mini-beats. “Contains no instrument samples, patches or other additives”, is the proud boast of Pavlov as he brands his work “100% home-made computer sound”, almost as if it were a product from the supermarket. From May 2013.

Minimetal are a rum duo of Swiss guys who perform on stage as a guitar-and-drum duo, apparently wearing top hats and tuxedos while doing so. They’ve gotten into music from a background in the visual arts – design, sculpture and painting, so right away one can’t help but wonder if there’s a performance-art slant to their act. Apparently they formed in 1994, and were fans of Kyuss and other stoner / rock bands of that period…they only wrote 11 songs, and their entire act consists of repeating this slightly limited repertoire to anyone who will listen. On one level they might be accused of starting off as a parody and have now evolved to the point where they’re parodying themselves, but I think there’s likely to be more going on under the surface. The songs on this record are genuinely strong examples of mesmerising and compelling rock, but they’re also performed with a precision and attention to detail which you won’t find in the music of 90% of sloppy west coast slacker bands of the 1990s. Even the vocals are a spot-on impersonation of that throaty American grunty style of singing; you might have to pause to remind yourself that they’re actually European musicians. At no time though is there any sense that Minimetal are mocking the genre, its musicians, fans, or audiences, and Never Hang Around (SPEZIAL MATERIAL SM043CD023) is a thoroughly enjoyable listen of ultra-steady rock rhythms, precision-tooled riffing and relentless syncopation. I suppose the anomalous factor is that they perform this set in art galleries rather than rock venues, but there’s nothing especially odd about that – after all how many New Wave and noise bands have performed at London’s ICA? The top hat and tuxedo gimmick might be read as a nod in the direction of The Residents, but I think it’s more likely to be another carefully-planned gesture of irony; choosing costumes that are uncomfortable and well-groomed in order to position themselves as the diametric opposite of the grunge and stoner “style”, with its comfortable leisure wear, trainers and denims, and loose sweatshirts worn over t-shirts. From 7th May 2013.

Drums and guitar are utilised in a quite different mode by Glockenspiel on their Dupleix (BABEL LABEL BVOR12108) album. The duo of Adrian Dollemore and Steve d’Enton emerge from a background in UK improvisation, and are now cocooning out of that shell into a species of ambient beat-driven jazz drone, played with Dollemore’s diffused and effects-laden guitar and d’Enton’s rather languid beats. Not unpleasant, but much of the music is a bit too smooth and cosy for me, with the exception of ‘Bellville’ which has a lot more in the way of ragged edges, discordant notes, and fire in the guts; moments of ‘Fentanyl’ work in this way too, disrupting the otherwise rather polite tone of the album. One slight reservation one might express is how dated this approach to making music seems now; Dupleix could have been made in 1996, and its aspirations towards Sonic Youth, Krautrock, and ambient music feel a bit tired and unengaging. From 13 May 2013.

Mutatis Mobilis (ATTENUATION CIRCUIT ACR 1028) is a fine item by the great Freiband (i.e. Frans de Waard), sent to us in May 2013 from this Germal label who do package their droney output in some fine tactile plastic lunchboxes for our delectation. I suppose there are two main characteristics to note with Mutatis Mobilis – its interactiveness, and its extremely recycled nature. As to the interactive dimension, Frans has timed and edited these two suites of ultra-processed drone so that they last precisely the same length; the listener is invited to open both tracks on the computer, using a suitable audio program, so that they can be played back and listened to simultaneously. And even remixed in real time, if the user entertains such proclivities. I haven’t yet tried it myself, but I expect Audacity would do the job effectively, and it’s an open source program which I recommend. However, with this release De Waard is trying to move away from strictly “digital” methods and is harking back to the 1980s when TEAC four-track machines enabled the bold experimenter to do amazing things on cassette tapes with overdubs, mixage, and bouncing-down. Matter of fact the label also released this album as a cassette (15 copies only, though) in hopes that owners of original Portastudios could get stuck in. As to the recycling element, Mutatis Mobilis uses source material created by Freiband blended with other source material from the album Mutatis Mutandis by Aalfang mit Pferdekopf, which itself was created out of sound samples provided by Freiband. This collaborative “reprocess my stuff, dude” spirit seems to be one of the mainstays of 1980s experimentation (I was just mentioning it the other day in reference to P16.D4), and Freiband are clearly steeped in that work ethic. With the multiple configurations and reconfigurations of material that are taking place here, further compounded by the possibilities that we might introduce if we open up this CD in Audacity, Mutatis Mobilis is clearly a work that is never actually “completed” in the ordinary sense of the term. From 20 May 2013.

All Grown Up

Kid606
Happiness
TIGERBEAT6 RECORDS MEOW 200 CD (2013)

Dearie me. Eleven more tracks from the noughties’ most notorious glitch-stepper: Kid606? My earlier, hype-fuelled exploration – which didn’t leave me a fan – returns sharply to mind: from the eclectic, frenetic electric playroom antics of Kid606 and Friends through to the mutant dancehall volley of Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You (which I did rather like, truth be told); I wearied further with each release until giving up. His haphazard and hyperactive drill n’bass antics struck me as overly prolific, provocative and disposable. I imagined him laughing about gullible Wire readers with his Tigerbeat6 mates, after hours: hardly the most illustrious artist/listener relationship potential. Admittedly, there have been moments when his irreverence has hit the spot beautifully: his bastard-pop cut ups of NWA and Eminem for instance, but for the most part the electro-punk sensibility yielded more exhaustion than exhilaration. Even Mike Patton’s heroic act of pre-career cartography – sifting through 10 hours of recordings to compile the Kid’s Ipecac debut, Down With The Scene – proved for me a gruelling and often forgettable experience. Thus, apprehension weighs heavily at the arrival of this dirty-booted revenant. Thrown-together cover art? Check. Waggish track titles? Check. Hesitantly but obligingly, I slip it on, knocking back a shot for good measure.

Sixty-four minutes later my mood’s transformed – rather as (the Kid’s alter ego) Miguel de Pedro’s appears to have, allegedly effected by his migration to sunny LA – into something vaguely triumphant. There’s no mistaking the author of these light-hearted, pastel-tinted melodies, but what surprises is how successfully they’ve been integrated into the glitchy atmospherics that might once have consumed them. Sunny centrepiece ‘Party Gambas’ best exemplifies: finely diced seagull samples add an authentic air of seaside leisure to the rolls of summery synth stabs that drive it like a beach party that doesn’t end in pools of vomit and a summoned ambulance. But nor does it become too responsible. Combing the same coast from dazed sunrise to hazy twilight at a moderated pace for much of the album, the Kid shifts gears now and again but never grinds them as he so often used to. I’m reminded in my newfound admiration that manic as it was, ‘Down With The Scene’ had just as much in the way of pastoral charm as it did aural demolition, yet impressions of the latter proved most durable.

His excision of blast beats and second-rate scribbling is a breath of fresh air for listeners as jaded as myself, and while there’s nothing that’s exactly anthemic it’s still a remarkably high hit count. ‘Happiness’ is of an ilk more akin to the Kompakt stable – exhibiting confident, life-affirming warmth that builds on the delicate, melancholic atmospherics of releases such as his Mille Plateaux debut PS I Love You (2000). Though supposedly a signal of his auspicious relocation to warmer climes, to my ears the eponymous ‘Happiness’ arises from a rapprochement between the Kid’s inner child and critic. Where the former once ran rampant, crayoning walls with sometimes serendipitous abandon, the other seemed very much the ‘no hang ups’-chanting hippy/laissez faire parent. Granted I’ve a few years of missed releases to catch up on, but I’m glad to witness the timely onset of the Kid’s maturity, even if he views it askance himself, as suggested by the shadowy final title ‘Man: The Failed Child’. Others might disagree with this cynical sentiment, or perhaps it’s a further sign that the earlier sense and sensibility of irreverent humour still prevails.

Instant Satisfunction: a bewildering set of beat-dominated looping rhythmscapes

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Rioteer / Urbanfailure / Gotharman / Axiomid, Instant Satisfunction, Slovakia, Urbsounds Collective, CD 26 (2012)

Four acts come together to release this set of sixteen beats-dominated rhythmscapes ranging in sound from techno, noise and industrial-lite to abstraction and experimental rhythm-based sound art. The whole recording can be a bewildering experience and an exercise in holding your mind together as it struggles with the influx of brutal and often punishing technoid music soundtracks. The music moves with an inhuman machine-like spirit created from the incessant repeating beats, chattering tones and murky rhythms that when combined together must achieve some level of self-awareness and conscious purpose. It reaches out to make contact with the nearest carbon-based life-form – which happens to be the unwary listener who thinks this recording is just going to be another compilation of club-friendly break-beat hardcore techno stuff.

Rioteer‘s “From Better Times”, a pugilistic puncher up against a languid loop of warbling female voice, and Urbanfailure‘s repetitive “Caught in Humankind”, a study of multi-looping machine stutter, set the bar high for others to follow: some stumble and others flat-line but the one consistency among all of them is that they confound expectations about what to expect. Highlights include Gotharman‘s sometimes creepy “Attacked by Mosquitos” (sic) which appears to feature precious few mozzies but lots of squiggle, bubbling sounds and something frothing in the background; and Rioteer’s battleground piece “Space Collider”, complete with machine-gunning loops and breakbeat rounds. “Space Collider” is a lively track at least if not in all-out attacking mode. Axiomid‘s “Pilot is missing” plays about with aeroplane hums and roars.

Perhaps because the album usually jumps from one artist to the next, rather than clump tracks by the same musician together, the tracks betray no individual style that might set their creators apart from other people on the album and after a while tend to bleed into one another irrespective of their originators. The heavy emphasis on repetition in the beats and rhythms means that music composition is a bit at a stand-still; there’s no sense of progress or direction on several tracks. As the album continues past track 10, I sense a deterioration in standards as some pieces opt for knock-about rhythm bombast and machine beats and loops allowed to run away with no attempt on the artists’ part to control where they romp.

This album ends up quite playful if at times gleefully harsh in sound, even glorifying in being brutal for its sake alone. I’d have preferred an album of many moods and atmospheres with the odd unstructured space-ambient tone poem over a recording that relies rather too hard on the well-worn template of looping repetition.

Before & After Skynet

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Frank Bretschneider
Super.Trigger
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 149 CD (2013)

Returning to some of the then-groundbreaking sounds of the early ‘90s – among these, the Warp-championed ‘Artificial Intelligence’ – it’s less surprising how dated much of it sounds now than how charming such a pejorative adjective can be. Aphex Twin and Autechre fared better than most, and have gone on to fashion stimulating, retroactive works such as ‘Analord’ and ‘Oversteps’, which sort of ratifies the notion that being ‘dated’ or ‘of its time’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s possible to watch Star Wars for instance, and still be charmed by the resourceful special effects – such is not the case with the CGI on those egregious prequels though.

Hearing Raster Noton’s ‘Archiv 01’, which accompanied an issue of The Wire in 2005, was a real lightning bolt for me, emerging as it did during the first or second tidal wave of sub-par ‘bedroom’ electronic music, which effectively castrated the DIY democracy value stemming from a new glut of affordable equipment. Clinical in its administration of sound elements and events, and palming the devolutionary baton of techno minimalism from Plastikman, Mille Plateau and the like, the pared down Raster Noton sound alluded that a more ‘authentic’ form of AI had been born: a striking notion, even now.

One of the sonic architects, Frank Bretschneider – Raster Noton co-founder – has continued to refine (though not necessarily redefine) his sound over the years, and this process culminates (for the time being) in this menacing, techno-splicing platter. Full stops bolted into track titles such as ‘Over.load’ and ‘Mean.streak’ offer visual analogue to the intricately machined nuts that connect countless strata of drilled and ballistic, cross-directional rhythms, which in their entirety resemble the densely layered traffic networks envisioned in comics such as ‘2000 AD’. But he doesn’t reveal it at once: Bretschneider is calculating in his administration: each piece whirrs into life like a robotics factory that slowly gains sentience; there’s an incremental shift from cold mechanical repetition to self-assured robo-funk, which seems to mimic the very genesis of consciousness. On every side, rhythmic components vanish and reappear capriciously, as though Teo Macero were our ghost in the machine.

Is it formulaic? I suppose, but attentive listeners will perceive the ‘patterned’ connotation, as opposed to ‘repetitive’. The ruse of the mechanical opening might serve to delude credulous listeners, before the piece’s beating heart becomes apparent in one exultant flash. Subtle stylistic shifts separate one piece from the next, but the whole is peppered liberally with ground Detroit techno particles; entailing a cocktail of dread and awe as the final product – like some replicant – parades its unique, physical perfection for its short life span. Divine in proportion, these tracks display a seeming immortality, which will probably seem quite quaint a decade or two down the line. Will it have been supplanted by something even more lifelike? For that matter, will we?

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Senking
Capsize Recovery
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 152 CD (2013)

If Bretschneider brings us the birth of machine intelligence, then Senking’s soundworld is the ponderous and skull-crushing dark nightscape of the soul after the Terminators have declared war on mankind. Taking as his prima material a dread-inducing low-frequency rumble that other producers might misuse as a welcome mat into their post-techno exhibitionism, Senking claws deep into the darkness to excavate an eerie array of disconcertingly familiar motifs drawn from dubstep to dub-techno. It’s an uneasy listen: partly because it threatens to yield to one or other of these well-worn styles (though never quite does) and because it expresses all the emotion of a sociopathic cyborg.

Most tracks kick off with an uneven, shuffling meter that calls to mind the inner-city prowl of Hyperdub stalwarts King Midas Sound and Burial, or Squarepusher’s electro-jazz superlative, ‘Plaistow Flex Out’. To this solid-but-shifting foundation he adds layers of growling lazer beams, drunken snares and the odd, disconcerting allusion to a known subgenre, such as on ‘Cornered’, where the cocksure bass reverberation suggests dubstep, which does get my spider senses tingling admittedly. Elsewhere, delivery is of a colder, more ‘Blade Runner’ bent, such as on ‘Nightbeach’, which evokes the silent stalk of a seasoned serial killer on a breezy midnight.

I never bothered to decipher the contents of The Fall’s ‘Dr Buck’s Letter’, thus its meaning remains unknown to me, though its filthy bass oozes through each of the eight pieces heard here. Another mystery is how capsizing could possibly affect a vessel as bottom-heavy as Senking’s, but he is evidently a more seasoned nautical engineer than myself. Perhaps the force encountered is that of the storm itself, and the perpetual malaise that informs every melodic gesture is the true indication of peril. With that in mind, and serious flooding affecting England on an unprecedented scale of late, and much speculation about our future of inundation, Senking’s aquatic apprehensions provide me with an apposite soundtrack to the heralding of end times.

Kwjaz (self-titled): lush soundscapes of Sixties / Seventies psychedelic nostalgia

kwjaz

Kwjaz, self-titled, Not Not Fun Records, CD NNF 238 (2012)

Originally released on cassette, this self-titled debut from one-man project Kwjaz had to be issued on vinyl and CD due to the attention it garnered in the musical underground. Easy to see why too because even on first hearing I was instantly transported away into a hidden universe of strangely soft-glowing ambient colours and lush forests of shrill glittering sound and light textures. Kwjaz is the brain-child of San Francisco native Peter Berends so one presumes that this is the music project he was called upon by Kismet to direct; with his background steeped in the popular music and culture of that fair city, and that cornucopia of fine sounds Aquarius Records located not far from his neighbourhood, he really had no choice. The CD version of the album comes with the original two 20+ minute tracks plus two bonus pieces. (Dontcha just hate that when you’ve already bought the cassette?)

“Once in Babylon” ranges far and wide in musical inspiration and influence but the most interesting part comes about the 8th minute with a languorous beach-combing rhythm strolling by while space-lounge tone effects flutter about and a trumpet trills overhead. Our beach-comber soon reaches a discotheque and from there on it boogies sedately along the dance-floor. Little spaceship noise squiggles wobble high in the pulsating atmosphere and trumpet tones parp-parp by. Next think you know, you’re underwater in a funny sub trawling along the sea-floor while gloopy green currents of water slide past the port-hole. The track seemingly describes various experiences that inhabitants of a Golden Age of Mass Culture and Consumerism enjoyed over 40 years ago: there’s plenty of muzak and elevator music to pig out on.

Needless to say, “Frighteous Wane” is the flip-side to “Once in Babylon” in concept as well in the album’s original cassette format: it’s queasily psychedelic, a bit cold and clinical in parts – it’s the music that might delineate the hangover that comes from too much consumption of the most banal and mediocre experiences and material goods of the decades in which restraint, good sense and taste, and foresight were prominent by their absence. Nightmarish drones of a deliriously deranged kind are beguiling in their own way and even though you know you’re going to feel a bit sick, you can’t help but follow the music where it will. Withdrawing would give you anxiety attacks. You know you’ve made the right decision because the music does take you into some wondrous dimensions of jewelled sound and mood melody, all veiled with a slightly sinister atmospheric veil. The best moment comes about the 15th minute with a detour into an odd world of childhood tinkle toy jewellery box nostalgia and kitsch Oriental gardens of neat pagodas, little bridges over artificial streams of goldfish and carp, and cherry trees in perennial blossom. The whole vista is a little nauseating.

Of the bonus tracks, the unexpectedly short “A Certain Sprout” dallies in Sixties lounge nostalgia with analog synth melodies made a little creepy with touches of cold ambient space tone. “Elevation: Elation / Jah Wad” consists of a chain of various musical snapshots that might have come straight from an old-time late Seventies radio station playing songs straight through with no station announcements or commercial breaks. Overall though the bonus pieces don’t add anything new to the album that we don’t already know from the original pieces and some of the music on “Elevation …” echoes “Once in Babylon” with its mixture of beach-holiday ambience, lazy tropical rhythm and wistful nostalgia.

This album is the most intriguing of journeys into a realm that initially seems very familiar and nostalgic but threaded through with uneasy-listening elements that force you out of your comfort zone to confront perhaps some very uncomfortable truths about what the world you grew up in really was like. The best moments of the album are its most alien, the darkest and most ambivalent.