A centre for reviews and information on electronic music ________
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FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2005

Sonic Data Dynamics

Alva Noto – Transall Cycle (Raster Noton)

Visual design has always been an important element in the image of the Raster Noton label. Different and distinctive design philosophies define the different sub-series on the label, and naturally the three parts of this new cycle have their own identity. They are packaged in over-sized card sleeves with a grid pattern on white plus minimal details that identify each of the parts – Transrapid, Transvision and Transspray. Visuals play an even more important role in this series as the sounds have been produced by converting text, image and other data files into raw audio data.

Each is effectively a single, containing 21 minutes of music plus texts by German writer Ulf Poschardt, Kodwo Eshun and Slovene artist Marko Peljhan that are intended to illustrate the theme of each part. This could produce expectations of an over-conceptual music that is over dependent on textual support. In fact, this series contains some of Noto’s most dynamic sounds for some time, and represents a return to the type of startling innovation that the label was first known for.

The sounds violate and disrupt some of the serene and tasteful sound formulas previously associated with Alva Noto (Carsten Nicolai). This is particularly true of the third part, Transspray. While the first two parts have four tracks this has eight, some less than a minute. Urgency comes across in the sounds as well as the duration of the tracks. Autoshape is very rhythmical and aggressive and sounds almost like a track from the industrial Ant-Zen label. Elsewhere other details such as a voice sample and rough waves of hiss give the tracks a “heavy-duty” quality, at times reminiscent of Pan Sonic. f117.tiff deploys an austere raw machinic texture that brings to the surface the alienating as well as exhilarating creative potentials of data.

Part 2, Transvision contains longer tracks but has a similar ominous urgency, particularly on the track j. Tracks are marked out by heavy electro-style zaps and the warm bass undertow of postfabric is offset by sharp, cold details. Part 1, Transrapid is much closer to Alva Noto’s previous work, but already introduces the glitchy cut-up details that come to the fore in Parts 2 and 3. Opener Funkbugfx features a standard Noton laboratory process hum but is already less static than usual. Future takes this template into a new, almost danceable territory that is then disrupted by harshly syncopated details. The track presents itself as a conceptual as well as sonic processing of the very idea of the future tense as a location of innovation.

The surprising aggression and disruptiveness of this series will definitely challenge some of the art-electronic intelligentsia, but this new departure does not signal conceptual dilution but intensification. This may be less seductive than some previous Noto work, but this makes it seem all the more impressive. Part 3 is the most surprising of the series, and Part 2 possibly the most impressive. However, all are at a very high standard and contain enough variation to make it worth hearing the complete series.

THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 2005

Disko Stalemate?

Savvas Pascalidis – Disko Vietnam (Gigolo 134)


[DJ] Hell’s Gigolo label is extremely polarised. Many of its artists are torn between producing more heavy-duty dancefloor tracks and the kitsch outrages loved by the most superficial electroclash followers. This often results in strange hybrids and uneasy compromises between sleaze and force. The Gigolo aesthetic is based on a type of revolt against taste – a refusal to rule out stylistic options that are generally seen as just “too much.” Given some of the outrages for which Gigolo artists have been responsible, an album called “Disko Vietnam” doesn’t seem that remarkable or offensive. In any case, it would be wrong to single out Gigolo in this respect. Vietnam long ago became a systematically over-exploited pop cultural presence and connecting a vaguely hedonistic soundtrack to the war is much less tasteless than the myriad ‘Nam TV films. Even at its most tacky, the neo(n)-retro sound promoted by Gigolo and related labels and acts is only a more honest reflection of the generalised tastelessness of our contemporary kleptoculture. Even if only unintentional, there is a certain illustrative value in such defiant tastelessness, which has actually produced some extremely memorable electronic pop tracks that also work well as documents of their time.

Pascalidis’ first Gigolo album was one of hedonistic day-glo excess that also contained a few more stylish (though still sleazy) neo-EBM tracks. Disko Vietnam looks and sounds more serious, but only up to a point. The darker track titles and blood-stained artwork suggest a conscious attempt to move on from the more naïve mode of presentation seen previously. The album as a whole illustrates the unresolved tensions of the Gigolo style, which only its most talented producers such as Hell or David Carretta combine fluently. Here, everything seems to have been muted and even slowed down and neither of the Gigolo extremes dominates. The sequencing on “Move Your Body” could make it a dynamic neo(n)-retro classic yet it’s pulled back to ordinariness by the knowingly cute vocoder vocals. “Saigon Nightmare” has some dark Depeche Mode style chords but is not nearly aggressive or dark enough to symbolise what the title suggests. In fact, it doesn’t suggest anything worse than a reasonable album that could be much stronger. “U Can Do It” and several other tracks feature what are (presumably) knowingly ironic American voice samples that again spoil tracks that would be much better as instrumentals, free of these cheap clichés. Most tracks seem curiously slow, or in some cases not slow enough – “Vanishing Point” might actually sound more distinctive as a slower New Beat style track. That said, it is worth persevering with the album, at least for the triad of “Paranoia”, “The Formula” and “Acid Cock.” These are functional, dark, EBM-disko classics that leave a mark and come close to the dynamism of the finest Gigolo tracks. Overall, it seems as if the more “serious” instrumental tracks need a little more macht, while the more tacky tracks are not quite offensive or tasteless enough, so that neither aspect of the Gigolo sound is fully present here and devotees of either extreme may be disappointed by an uneasy compromise.

THURSDAY, JUNE 02, 2005

EBM Defiance

Terence Fixmer – Danse avec les ombres (Citizen)

At some point in the early nineties the first wave of EBM began to ossify into cliché. Once the most dynamic and forceful variant of electronic dance, it was far outdone by the harsher new sounds of techno and gabba and retreated into conservatism. Vocals and guitars predominated and the whole form seemed tired. Critical opinion almost never referred to it except as a strictly historical phenomenon and in some ways it became a niche scene. In fact, many of the techno producers (including those in Detroit) had grown up on a diet of Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, Skinny Puppy et al. and at some point in the late nineties it became acceptable to acknowledge and even to re-incorporate this sound. Belgian producer Fixmer was in the vanguard of this movement but more “fashionable” figures such as DJ Hell have also championed EBM and its textures have bled into electroclash and the work of many contemporary producers whose work seems to have no conceptual connection to EBM. The rediscovery of EBM (and other recently repressed and rejected sounds of the eighties) seems to be an acknowledgement that EBM (and also New Beat) stalled prematurely, and that its full potential was never fully realised. With the quantum leaps in technology during the nineties and the pushing back of the limits of force by techno it has now become possible to take the EBM template much further. However, much of this does not explicitly call itself EBM and certainly does not originate from within the defined EBM scene. Fixmer acknowledges his influences openly (even recording an album with Nitzer Ebb’s Doug McCarthy) but operates primarily within the techno/dance scene. Danse avec les ombres is one of the finest pieces of what could be called the neo-EBM sound and sets a standard even beyond the best of Fixmer’s previous tracks. Starting with what sounds like a reversed Stuka sample, it is joyfully strict, linear and harsh. It has the classic EBM spirit but is backed by a massive, previously unimaginable techno punch. The B-side, Impulsion, is rawer and bleaker, scoured by primitive sci-fi sound effects but still sustained by a massive kick and far beyond the majority of similar tracks. Only the remix of Danse disappoints with its guitar-led electroclash populism. Yet if it attracts some new listeners and infects them with the EBM virus it may be no bad thing. Even with the remix this is a classic single, one of Fixmer’s finest. Unashamed “eighties industrial diehards” need look no further for a re-injection of the EBM spirit. Colossal.