Automatisme: Transit (LP, Constellation, August 2018)

This one from William Jourdaine is super hard to categorize. According to the blurb, ‘the sonic material is all sourced from the field, with recordings captured in the forests and caves of rural Quebec, along with ex-urban “non-places”, and various waiting rooms’. This seems to have gone through a whole load of modular synth gear and been ‘rendered through generative and probability-based digital patches’. The result is has an analogue-sounding warmth and a digital-sounding glitchiness. It burbles and stutters along at a nice tempo, though I’d characterize it more as a pulse than a beat. Jourdaine manipulates his material with great skill: there’s always something new happening, new sounds and textures either evolving slowly or bursting into the mix abruptly, but there isn’t a jarring moment on the record. Keeping things this interesting with a palette while making every new element sound so natural and right is a rare talent. This is one that demands repeated careful listenings — and rewards them richly.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Basic Channel / Dub Techno, Electronic.

Aclds: Fuadain Liesmas (CD, Entr’acte, January 2018)

I want you to imagine a giant robot, lost in a world it does not understand, holding a more aleatoric Morton Subotnick in one hand and a noisier Autechre in the other hand and trying to figure out how they work, while the mad scientist who built this poor creature plays fragments of The Caretaker and Stars Of The Lid to try to sooth it. That’s not what this record sounds like, but it’s the best I’ve got, so let’s go with it. There are walls of buzzing noises, torrents of blips and pops, and echoes of sad, droning melodies. There are also surprising moments of subtle beauty. Can a perfectly positioned and executed click be beautiful? I don’t know what weird mind tricks it’s playing, but this album makes me think the answer is yes.

I bought this from the label.

Kyoka: Is (Is Superpowered) (CD, Raster-Noton, May 2014)

It was looking for a moment there like I wasn’t going to get a single 2014 release from the wonderful Raster-Noton. But only because I nearly forgot about this little gem from the summer.  Which would be rubbish, because this is fab. It’s got that precision-engineered glitch we expect from the label, but it’s also crammed with infectious beats and catchy tunes, and makes great use of her cut-up vocals, hovering just the other side of language and all the better for it. There are so many moments which just make me grin every time I hear them: the interplay between her vocals and the awesome toasting on Lined Up, the daft squeaky melody which turns up two thirds of the way through the rumbling Rot Neu, and the way that Re-Pulsion somehow makes me think of a R&B track that’s been syncopated to within an inch of its life. But my highlight has to be Piezo Version Vision, a sort of industrial hardcore number that smashes together a pummeling beat, a big roaring noise, a bunch of squeaky noises, a fantastically catch glitched-up snare fill, a vocal that sounds a bit like someone trying to play a didgeridoo while operating a pneumatic drill, and a brilliant chipmunky rave vocal… and slices and dices them into something utterly exhilarating. I can imagine this absolutely destroying the right kind of dancefloor. Hell, if I knew anywhere playing this kind of stuff, it might be enough to make me go clubbing again. For me, this is the most exciting dance music record of 2014 (and this was the year that the new Aphex Twin album appeared).

I bought this from Juno. They call it Techno, which seems a bit arbitrary.

Ryoji Ikeda: Supercodex (CD, Raster-Noton, November 2013)

I got hold of Ryoji Ikeda’s 1995 debut album 1000 Fragments when it was re-released by Raster-Noton in 2008. I liked it, but I didn’t love it, and I hadn’t really paid him much attention since then. That changed at the 2013 todaysart festival, where his test pattern performance tore the atrium of Den Haag town hall apart. Lying back in that fantastic space, it was like he’d filled the room with giant crystalline insects. According to my notes from the time (well, okay, twitter) it was like “Leafcutter ants snicking with their snippers and deathwatch beetles drumming”. This is obviously brilliant, and it was the highlight of a great festival. So when I saw he had a new record out, I figured I’d give it a go. And here we are. I am pleased to report that the insects are still in attendance, and in fine form. The effect on CD is rather less dominating, and certainly less physical, than his audiovisual live act. In fact, for music made pretty much entirely out of clicks and superficial resembling binary data on tape, it’s really rather playful — quite refreshing given how much doom-laden bass-heavy stuff is coming out right now. With 20 tracks making up its 65 minutes, it moves on at a fair lick, and he manages to do 20 recognizably different things, which is impressive. The effect of the interplay between the intersecting glitchy rhythm is always involving and often pretty catchy. It’s taken a few listens to really get into it, but right now I’m finding it kinda addictive. Now, I must go back and revisit 1000 Fragments.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Industrial / Drone / Noise.

Atom™: HD (CD, Raster-Noton, April 2013)

I have talked before of the poppy side of Raster-Noton. This record fits that description rather more literally: its glitches are funky, its tracks recognizably songs, and there are real lyrics sung by real people (heavily processed, yes, but then that seems to be normal in today’s autotuned industry). Of course, this is still noted awkwardist Uwe Schmidt, so it’s too spiky to trouble the charts, and it’s all done very knowingly. He’s playing a dangerous game here: this sort of irony can easily become irksome, and with tracks like Stop (Imperialist Pop) he could be accused of wanting to have his cake and eat it. The cover/remix of My Generation (presumably chosen partly on the basis that Roger Daltrey’s stuttering vocal was an early experiment in glitch) also doesn’t quite work for me: it’s just too faithful to the original, at least until the end where instead of descending into a howl of distorted guitars it gets consumed by layers of buzzing electronics. On the whole, though, I like this: I’m a sucker for that precisely articulated Raster sound, and it really is very catchy.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Experimental / Electronic.

Autechre: Exai (CD, Warp, February 2013)

Shortly after buying this, I got an email saying that they’d discovered a glitch in the 24-bit WAV download of the track T ess xi. I’m afraid to say, my reaction echoed that of Dorothy Parker on hearing of the death of Calvin Coolidge: how can they tell? (I say this from a place of love.)

The first thing to notice about Exai is that it is a little over two hours long. As is their habit, Rochdale’s finest reject anything approximating a traditional structure, and make countless abrupt changes in direction, with a logic so skewed that it’s pretty much indistinguishable from chance. Consequently, I find it pretty much impossible to take in this album as a whole: it works as a kind of immersive experience, but I can’t put it into words. For the purposes of these notes, therefore, I’m going to employ a kind of critical synecdoche, and talk about just one track: for no particular reason, I’m opting for irlite (get 0). So. It starts with a kind of backwards-funky bass squelch, in which the rhythm drops out moments before the resolution. There is an extended glitch work-out, which (as I have remarked of their work before) seems to be the opposite of propulsive, an assemblage of elements where somehow everything lags behind everything else. There seems to be more low-end than Autechre have had in a while: I find myself wondering whether they are actually being a tiny bit on-trend here? Halfway through, everything fades away to leave a hollow ringing tone. We get an alternate version of the intro again. And then, lo and behold, we get something which is undeniably a melody. Somewhere in the distance, creeping out between those rumbling polyrhythms there’s a little lost ’80s synth pop tune, quite cheerfully going about it’s business. And then, ten minutes in, and without warning, it stops. And the next track starts. Well, I’m not sure that made sense, but somehow I can’t help coming back to listen to it over and over again, so it must be doing something right.

I bought this from Bleep.

Byetone: Symeta (CD, Raster-Noton, October 2011)

This came out at the high-point of what I am, rather facilely, going to refer to as Raster-Noton’s clicks’n’bass period, released in the same month as Alva Noto’s univrs. Following in the pattern of 2010’s Death Of A Typographer, Byetone continues to represent the poppier side of the label, as far as it goes, with some of the catchiest machine-tooled glitch rhythms going. Or perhaps clubbier would be a more accurate term — I could see the awesomely mashed snarling of, say, Helix destroying the right kind of dance floor (possibly literally). Add in some truly monstrous low-end and the result is filthy and fantastic. (Incidentally, album closer Golden Elegy is a rare RN vocal track — but, this being RN, the vocals in question are a rather stern-sounding German guy reciting poetry. My German is close to non-existent, but I’m pretty sure I caught the phrase “kapitalistischer schweingeld”, which should give you  flavour.)

I bought this from Amazon, because I couldn’t find it anywhere else convenient, sorry.

Alva Noto: univrs (CD, Raster-Noton, October 2011)

Uh-oh, the king of glitch has got the bass bug. This is ostensibly a follow up to 2008’s unitxt. I think it’s fair to say that this is an altogether dirtier affair. The ultra-precision clicks, blips, and edits are all present and correct, but there’s something grindingly industrial running underneath everything here. The tone is quite varied, ranging from the sinisterly atmospheric to the almost catchy (well, if you’re in the mood to let yourself be caught). Maybe he’s picked up a couple of tricks from RN contributors like Senking or from his collaborations with Ryoji Ikeda… but nobody is like Carsten Nicolai when it comes to constructing a sound which is perfectly mechanical and yet has such a visceral human connection.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Anne-James Chaton: Événements 09 (CD, Raster Noton, March 2011)

I first encountered the French avant-garde “sound poet” Anne-James Chaton on Alva Noto’s unitxt: he features in the phenomenal opening track, apparently reading out all the serial numbers he can find in Carsten Nicolai’s wallet. This CD is essentially the logical continuation of that idea. The only (I think) sound here is Chaton’s voice, this time apparently reading news reports of important events of 2009 along with other texts (like the terms and conditions on train tickets) associated with those dates. This is processed relatively gently, but then cut up and sequenced to within an inch of its life, so we end up with a pounding rhythmic assault entirely fitting with the glitchier end of Raster Noton’s catalogue. With repetition, the words quickly lose their meaning, and become rhythm and sound. I’ve been fascinated by this sort of thing for ages — I remember being blown away when I first heard Prefuse 73’s Estrocaro EP in 2000, for example — so this is right up my street. It does help that Chaton is French, which makes it all sound, well, foreign (such as when he places the accent on the first syllable of Barack Obama’s surname), and of course also that bit more cool. I find it hypnotic and compulsive. If this all sounds a bit earnest, it shouldn’t: marking the passing of Michael Jackson, he loops “pop is dead” a dozen times before completing the phrase with “the king of pop is dead”, deadpan but clearly (surely?) with his tongue in his cheek. The only problem I have with this record is that it does lead to some very strange ear-worms.
I bought this from Juno. They call it Leftfield.

Cyclo: id (CD, Raster Noton, March 2011)

Cyclo is Carsten Nicolai and Ryoji Ikeda. Nicolai (aka Alva Noto) is obviously a firm favourite here. Ikeda, I’ve had my doubts about before, but this goes a long way to dismiss them. Because this is pretty damned great. It starts out with a high pitched squeal, into which glitchy clicks slice in a very physical way — they’re palpably bending the tone. In fact, this is a very physical record generally. The second track introduces a truly massive bass noise which you feel as much as hear. The album slowly builds in density and intensity, and by the end we’re utterly lost in a rich forest of buzzes, clicks, and peeps, skittering like crazy but each one connecting perfectly. I imagine this is extremely hard to do well, and here it is done very well indeed.

This music is best listened to quite loudly, and works well on headphones (especially if the dog is around, as it seems to upset her, unsurprisingly).

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it electronic.