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SATURDAY, JANUARY 28, 2006

Ethereal Mechanical

Who's Afraid of Linear Techno? Part 58

Kuniaki Takenaga_Phantasmagoria EP Manuke [MK010]
Go Hiyama Page 122. EP. Asian Dynasty AD003

These two Japanese releases both fall within the minimal techno genre but stretch its limits in similar ways. The standard punitive mechanical textures and beats are present, but alongside contrasting and even contradictory idyllic moments. They combine rigorous hard-line techno with dreamy trance atmospheres occasionally teetering on the point of pure kitsch. Takenaga's opening track Meltybladdia contains an ethereal vocal female vocal swirling around the dense machinic arrays making for a strange combination. In Marrinos the ethereal string textures are still present but are far more severely repressed by an infinitely heavier and bleaker set of beats, providing only slight flashes of colour. Deepsea is a tense standoff between more epic/"symphonic" swirling textures and an onslaught of intricate heavily mechanized beats. The strangely titled Phantasmagoria Noel is full of precision tooled metallic textures set against what could be a sampled tribal chant.

Go Hiyama's Page 122 is more minimal with less overtly idyllic elements, but is still more than a set of straightforward DJ tools. There are two tracks, each with a remix. The original version of Anonymous Structure is a medium paced metallic techno track with an underlay of subtle string traces and vocal fragments, similar to some of the releases on Surgeon's Counterbalance label. Takaaki Itoh's remix is less punitive and more atmospheric than usual productions, and contains what sound like melancholic Japanese vocal fragments. Both on this remix and the original Sustainable Puzzle there are definite echoes of the Downwards sound. On Sustainable Puzzle there are strange ghostly chords and unusual heavy drum patterns. These sound like Slovak minimal master Rumenige, but with the force kept more repressed/held in check, never quite breaking out. The remix by Singapore's Angela Flame is different again. It starts in low-key soundtrack style, with bleaker chords and slow drums, and while it gradually accelerates it remains uneasy and unresolved, something quite different.

These releases suggest an increasing sophistication in the Japanese approach to techno minimalism. All the "standard" minimal elements are present, but in new configurations and with new opposing elements that suggest a complex Bladerunner-style Futurism. Both are worth tracking down to hear some new mutations in the now classic minimal techno form.