System: _ (2002)
Characteristically understated amongst the flow of recent releases on Stefan Betke's ~scape label, System's _ proves that less is more. The trio of producers that make up the group hail from Copenhagen, where they have been active on the underground electronica scene. (Their other project, Future 3, has headed in other directions.) _ (aka no title ) occasionally indulges in reverberant washes of melody, as on the pulsing refrain to "Please," but more often lurks in the netherworld of glitch, echo, and synthetic noises. If you turn the volume up to listen beyond the frontline material, you're rewarded with texture that spans the entire frequency range from 15kHz whistles to 20Hz rumbles. (Which of course, rewards the listener the most on quality stereo systems and headphones.) And rather than adopt the techno-rooted approach many of their contemporaries have come to rely upon, System avoids beats in the conventional sense. You won't hear any recognizable drums or cymbals, just bits and snatches of sound that have gone through enough processors to render their origin mute. Patterns, yes. Rhythms, yes. But no stinkin drums.
As a wholly synthetic music, _ draws from influences in the tone-generator world (think Pan Sonic for one), but substitutes a rich evolving texture for their abstract minimalism. On "Spy," a persistent crackle heralds the introduction of an ostinato drone, expanding and contracting all around the pulse. Tucked in amongst these dry cycles lie reverberant pattering echoes, timed to interlock in subtle ways. Four minutes later, it's off to another world. Down the road, "Micro" is perhaps the most obviously dub-influenced track on the record: it has all the hallmarks. A repeated sinking bass unit drives simple keyboard melodies, with tinkling and digital static all around. Within the boundaries of the piece's formal structure, System manages to engage in a surprisingly fruitful act of creation. The point, it seems, is reinvention. Even in the zone of familiarity, the group tosses in enough counterpoint and detail to rise above the rest and craft something new.
But be warned. Throughout this disc, there's absolutely nothing that will grab you, shake you, or get you up on the floor to dance (barring ingestion of psychoactive substances, of course). _ has just enough warmth tucked in among its ambient minimalism to render it a moving experience, but there are plenty of dark, icy moments as well. Let's hope this debut by System is only the beginning. These artists definitely have more to say.
Track Listing: PPG; Spy; Invade; Micro; Park; Please; SK20; Red Click; 2.
Personnel: Written and produced by System: Jesper Skaaning, Anders Remmer, and Thomas Knak.