Saturday, June 9, 2012

Same differences

This is possibly the last official post for a while as Sonar nears. Plenty to prepare for with interviews, listening and other things and upcoming posts may be links to work published elsewhere as opposed to here, though some supplementing with videos and extra notes may occur as always and with time permitting.

Ideas from the Pond versus Voices from the Lake

As we approach the midpoint of the year and cast a glance back across the musical landscape it is pretty clear that 2012 is nowhere near the vintage year that 2011 was. There have been very few releases that have really changed the direction of electronic music or fallen into the classification of what many would consider classic. However, there are two albums that may yet lay claim to this status and coincidentally they were released around the same time and their name is also nearly identical even if the music is remarkably distinct.

The first of these is Croatian producer Peter Dundov’s ambient techno album “Ideas from the Pond” which came out on Belgium’s Music Man Records.

The stand out feature of Dundov’s album is obviously the richness of the melodies. Blatant melody in techno is often a double edged sword, working like an easy portal to some kind of emotional connection that dance floor music doesn´t often need, while on the other hand it also sugars the relentlessness of the kick drum and bass which for many can be wearying if allowed to overpower for too long or if kept in the darkness of austerity. One of the other risks of melody is that it can smother the tension in the music and therefore blunt the psychedelic attack. Dundov neatly side steps all these problems by sacrificing some of the more overt dance floor tendencies of the rhythm section which then gives the melody more equilibrium in the mix. But perhaps the most important trick is to let the melodies unfold slowly, allowing them to add and subtract with each other over long periods meaning the psychedelia is not an overwhelming rush of the moment, but a slow and giddy disorientation of time and space. These aren’t pop sing along melodies after all, but more like river systems that broaden and narrow, that shallow and plunge as the weave and wend their way through the landscape to the pond at the end. That is to say that “Ideas…” is more an ambient album than blazing techno tour de force and as a listening experience it suits the more immersive climes of a lounge room and a comfortable chair than a discothèque. As well as classical ambient, “Ideas…” also pays homage to the Kosmische synth gods like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream. Dundov’s choice of synth palette sounds like it might originate in authentic machines or at least in patches and pre-sets that ape their sound beautifully and vividly. The overall sound lies somewhere between the extended New Age drawl of Kosmische music and the day glow hues and shiny plastic brightness of Kompakt’s production aesthetic.

Dundov’s Italian colleagues from across the Adriatic Sea Donato Scaramuzzi aka Donato Dozzy and Giuseppe Tillieci aka Neel have produced a near identical album to “Ideas…” in format, but the antithesis in structure. “Voices from the lake” which came out on Prologue on CD, with the vinyl still pending, is again ambient techno, flowing from beginning to end without pause, but it almost entirely shuns melody in favour of atmosphere and suggestion. Patterns are gently realigned and EQed in real time to create a channel of nuance and uncertainty in constant flux. Tension builds slowly from below and dissipates as fragments of sound atomise into smaller units and wash away. Whereas “Ideas…” works effectively by describing and elaborating emotional detail, “Voices…” succeeds by implication only and by maintaining expectation, but never resolving unknowns. “Ideas…” is also a lighter album, a reassuring journey whereas “Voices… suggests a darker, more dangerous personality at odds with a dystopian external world. Hypnotic is an overused word in the techno lexicon, but here it finds one of its most potent allies, for “Voices…” is truly hypnotic, maintaining a clear minded vision even while the music offers no tangible answers.

One important feature of “Voices…” is its apparent genesis in both the early hours of Berlin clubs and subsequently on the mountain sides of Japan in the Labyrinth Festival. The long sets and the excess of Berlin gave Dozzy a new experience that he could not have in Italian clubs, giving him a new time and space to adapt music too, a consideration that cannot be understated (see his Resident Advisor exchange podcast for more details before they archive it). While I have mixed feelings about such extremities of partying when the world seems like it has a lot of work to do to improve itself, it is undoubted that this ambient in Berlin has had some impressive effects on electronic music, as we discussed in one of the earliest posts here. As for Japan, one can see a little of how it might have been from this video, a little more forceful than the record as befits the club setting, but if the sound system is as good as they say then Dozzy and Neel’s music must have been almost perfect.

Two final minor points. Firstly, despite the watery references in the titles to both albums, it is quite pleasing to find them almost entirely avoid using water samples and clichés to decorate the music. “Voices…” does begin with trickling river sounds, but they all but disappear and instead the metaphor is left to the flow of the music, which is different in both cases: Dundov’s flow is via melodic change and Dozzy and Neel’s is via the continuous ebb and flow of the music.

Finally, there is something about “Voices…” that also reminds me in a good way of the classic Cologne techno album “Empire State Building” by Khan and Walker which came out on Harvest in 1997. Where are these guys now?


In a previous post we already mentioned the merits of Fluxion’s new album “Traces” out on Echocord. The second 12” with a lovely Morphosis remix has just appeared.

While this would be a good moment to talk about the confidence and quality exuding from the Danish label this year, with several other exceptional releases already out including the recent Function single as well as a new single by Leftover on their Baum sublabel. However, since we are talking about “sameness” it is worth highlighting two other recent or upcoming releases also called “Traces”

First up, is the new album “Traces” by Niels Luinenburg aka Delta Funktionen, fresh from mixing the “Intertia: Resisting Routine” collection on Ann Aimee. While also adhering to the slippery and persuasive techno stylings of the host label Delsin, Luinenburg’s debut long player clearly shows additional traces (sic) of Drexciya’s more electro styled output. Tracks like “Enter”, “Utopia” and “Challenger” in particular nail that particular style, embedding a touch of sleaze and danger with retro-futuristic percussion. However, the middle run of tracks still packs a punch with “Redemption” a stand out with its walloping and bubbling bass line, and “Target” perhaps more straight forward, but mercilessly effective and driving.

Something completely different however is the album “Traces” by Rachel EvansMotion Sickness of Time Travel project which came out on the new Room 40 cassette only sub-label  A Guide To Saints. Featuring two extended 20 minute tracks, one called “Traces”, it represents another accomplished release by the prolific Evans. The two tracks are built on long loops and repetitions and then embellished with improvised vocals and additional electronic sounds, reminiscent of some of the tape experiments of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. Both tracks are beautifully mesmerising and reassuring, with “Traces” in particular harbouring a particularly religious feel as if recorded in the lofty nave of a church while still managing quite a noisy climax in marked contrast to its quieter beginning.