Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter techno

A blog post doesn't need to be long-form to be worthwhile, right? Load light and go often, that's what I should try to be doing here. So with that in mind, a shortish missive on winter music.

There are several albums from this year or last that I had been eyeing (earing) since they emerged, along with a classic older one, all in the general realm of techno, and all having a tendency toward heavy bass and dark moods. They're diverse within that, though, ranging from pummeling (Perc - Wicker & Steel) to lurching (Andy Stott - Passed Me By and We Stay Together) to booming (Shed - The Traveller) to haunted and ritualistic (Demdike Stare - Tryptych) to evoking a train traveling through the world of Tarkovsky's Stalker (the older one, Basic Channel - BCD, their original CD compilation from 1995). I listened to samples of each on Juno Download several times over the year and in the last couple weeks decided to buy each of them one-by-one.

This is my first major foray into the world of techno, and already I'm sensing a reluctant shift away from the hardcore continuum in my favorite electronic listening music. (However, I think I will continue to prefer the syncopations of garage and jungle for dancing in a club; a 4x4 beat is too monolithic over a long stretch of time for me on the dancefloor. Not that these newly purchased albums are all 4x4, by any means.) The techno albums' sonic palettes all share a somewhat lower fidelity than is commonly found in current bass music, while retaining good crisp high frequencies; by comparison dubstep and similar styles suddenly sound too glossy on the whole. They feel like an excellent conjunction of what I love about the surreal post-funk of Liquid Liquid and 23 Skidoo along with the gothic atmosphere of Silent Shout along with the dark, dubby groove of dubstep and jungle. Their evocations of the occult and/or factories and/or caverns are precisely what I've been interested in hearing throughout 2011. And especially so now that winter has arrived: I've drawn certain characteristics of the music — heavy repetition on economical frameworks but with interesting small-scale mutable details; a feeling of rough materiality (metal, wood, stone, water), which the title of Perc's album explicitly refers to — into association with the brown, skeletal, raw landscape that has befallen here at this early stage of the season, so their arrival in my music library has been perfectly timed. The allure of the music makes me love the present look and feel of the land, where in the music's absence it might be depressing.

Over the past several days I tended a slow-burning pile of charcoal and ash in the field left over from a brush bonfire. The charcoal on the outside of the pile would burn down to ash, which would then insulate and slow the burning of the charcoal on the interior. I wanted the pile to burn down as much as possible, so I periodically mixed up the pile with a snow shovel to bring more charcoal to the outside of the pile, where it would be aerated and burn faster. This intensified the heat radiating from the pile, as if I had woken up a sleeping demon shaped like a miniature volcano. All the while, notions of Yule fire rituals, primitivist or minimal land art, and British peasants from any era with simple land-working tools out in brown fields under cold gray skies, swam through my head, all filtered through the strange, dusky sound-lens of my new winter techno albums.

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