Alva Noto: Xerrox (Vol. 3) (CD, Raster-Noton, April 2015)

From about a minute in, it’s pretty clear we’re in for a treat here. The Xerrox project has always been at the lush ambient end of Alva Noto’s output, so different from the razor-sharp glitch of, say, Unitxt. But this he’s outdone himself here: there is a huge depth of emotion just humming out of this. Based on a process of sampling, copying, mutating, and copying, the results are at once familiar and unearthly. There are string-like chord progressions and ethereal plinky-plonky melodies and quiet tapping rhythms, simple elements which get their power from their expert layering. (The string loops inevitable invoke William Basinski, but this is really quite different: Basinski’s works get their power from their relentless repetition and meditative minimalism, they’re obviously fantastic but you have to consciously surrender yourself to them; this is warm and inviting and draws you in.) The label’s blurb makes a reference to Tarkovsky’s Solaris, which is telling, both in the preoccupation with the fallibility of memory and its imperfect simulcra, and in the hazy, understated power.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient.

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.

Emptyset: Recur (CD, Raster-Noton, November 2013)

You have to admire Emptyset’s dedication to an ideal. That ideal is making big, chunky music almost entirely formed from clanking and buzzing noises. There are no beats, but the sounds are heavily rhythmical. There are virtually no notes at an audible frequency, but the bassy whirrs are forced through a tortuous tangle of filters there are often note-like things squealing out in the harmonics. It’s pretty much impossible not to use some kind of metallic metaphor to describe this, it’s industrial music in the most literal sense. It’s impressive, powerful stuff — but I have to say it’s a bit of a one-trick pony, the same rhythms and sounds keep (if you’ll pardon the pun) recurring, and by the end I find myself a little jaded. Maybe I’m overthinking it, maybe the idea is to lie back and blast this out at the kind of volume that obliterates critical thought… or maybe, just maybe, they didn’t quite have an album’s worth of material here. Good, but not quite great.

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

Senking: Capsize Recovery (CD, Raster-Noton, September 2013)

It is well known that a good Jeff Mills set is like being on a giant space ship made out of techno. Well, a good Senking record is like being on a giant submarine made out of dubstep (and possibly filled with insects). The awesome buzzing, the gorgeously precise, skittering beats, the sonar pings… pretty much everything I said about his last album, 2010’s Pong, applies here. I do miss the spooky vocals of tracks like Breathing Trouble, but then I love a lot of the subtle melodic flourishes in the plinky plonky high-end here. Like the best submarines, this is superbly engineered and great fun to ride in.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic (and they pre-emptively plagiarized my submarine simile, too).

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.

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.

Vladislav Delay: Vantaa (CD, Raster-Noton, November 2011)

This is seriously deconstructed dub techno, picking up (in album terms) where Tummaa left off. (The move from Leaf to Raster-Noton doesn’t appear to have had a massive effect.) Again, the dominant elements are all recognizable genre staples, but the structure is something quite different. This outing feels possibly less meandering. This is most obvious on Lauma, which is positively driving, albeit in a rather ragged way, like the way the blood crashes around your veins when you’re having a panic reaction — but much of the rest of the time there is a rather calmer sense of purpose. (Also, the tracks mostly clock in at 6–8 minutes rather than Tummaa’s 10+.) I think it’s a small but positive step, and it’s good to hear such a prolific artist continue to innovate.

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

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.

Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: Summvs (CD, Raster-Noton, May 2011)

It’s no exaggeration to say that my first hearing of this duo’s 2005 album Insen, and their concert at the Barbican, were transformative experiences for me. I’ve steered clear of their two subsequent releases, for fear that they would be disappointing (while developing a considerable awe of Carsten Nicolai’s other work, and Raster-Noton in general). But this time, I felt ready.

Within the first few seconds, something new is obvious: there is a wonkiness absent from the earlier work… everything is still very precise, but now sometimes it’s very precisely slurred. Sakamoto’s piano is as achingly perfect as every, its minimalism leaving you craving more. Nicolai has dialled down the glitches which dominated his contributions before, and instead has developed a knack for a subliminal throbbing tunefulness which counterpoints the delicate piano trills. The effect is awesome. My highlight is the eleven-minute Naono, in particular what we might call the second movement: a bassy hum plays a snippet of melody which is constantly resolving itself, a sequence which wouldn’t be out of place in the closing bars of a romantic symphony; this sense of coming home is challenged by persistently questioning piano flourishes, and punctuated by occasional Morse code blips… the timing is perfect, and the overall effect is of a combination of stasis and perpetual motion and I just don’t want it to stop.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.