Raster-Noton++ at Public Assembly

May 17, 2010

by Bijan Rezvani


Beyond’s Bunker music series in Brooklyn is one of my favorites in the city.   Focusing on mostly rhythm-centric electronic music, Bunker consistently showcases quality live acts and DJs.   Last week’s visit from Minneapolis’ DVS1 provides a shining example of the type of proper, skilled DJs they bring to New York.

Every now and then they shake things up with a lineup that breaks the four-on-the-floor mold, and such was the case this past Friday, when they invited Byetone, Aoki Takamasa, and Carlos Giffoni to trample a few familiar barriers. The night was bookended by music closer to Bunker’s standards set to Joshue Ott’s stunning Sueprdraw visuals, but these three visitors stood out most.

Carlos Giffoni (with whom we spoke a few weeks ago) took the stage and suffocated the room in noisy acid, presumably presenting the sound of his No Fun Acid project.   The music was notably not acid house.  In acid house, the squealing bassline follows the drum kit’s lead, accentuating the kick rhythm.  In Carlos Giffoni’s bizarro-noise-acid world, burning waves flood the ears while the programmed drums keep up as an additional reinforcement.  Imagine Steve Reich’s “Drumming” set to 303s, drum machine, and a more freeform generator on a big sound system, although the polyrhythmic changes had more to do with pattern switches than phasing.  I initially feared that a set of “acid” from a genre outsider might have a naive, pastiche-like quality, but Giffoni is a confident enough performer to develop his own sound rather than pursue a sort of mimicry and variation.  The result was a refreshing sonic experience.

After little more than half an hour, Giffoni passed the speakers to Byetone, AKA Olaf Bender, a co-founder of the electronic music label that does no wrong, Raster-Noton.   Byetone plays an unmistakeable, idiosyncratic set of digital noise, rough waves that sound something close to distorted guitar, and rather traditional beats, but with a 21st century timbral treatment.   His set is a self-performed, synchronized A/V experience that might permit little spontaneity, but included new material that he didn’t share at Mutek last year.  Byetone extends his compositions, riding and effectively modulating what others might compress into a couple of minutes.

To give a sense of his music, here’s a video from a performance in Chile with the beginning to “Plastic Star.”

[vimeo id=”2064089″]

I’m not sure who or what I’d compare Byetone’s music to, other than to say that it makes sense for him to be on Raster-Noton.

Finally came the night’s second Raster-Noton signee and the only person to have no visual accompaniment, Aoki Takamasa.  Takamasa’s set could be perfectly described by the title of last year’s release for the label’s Unum series: “Aoki Takamasa – Rn-Rhythm-Variations.”   While Aoki Takamasa has built his reputation on stuttering, chopped, glitch-funk, it’s typically paired with an element of warmth, such as synth pads or the voices of collaborators like Tujiko Noriko.  This sound can be heard on his recent remix compilation “Fractalized” on Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Commmons label.

His release for Raster-Noton is colder, dryer.   I was somewhat surprised to see his name appear as a third to follow two tough, noisy releases for RN’s Unum series, but hearing the music it makes sense.   Takamasa has somehow sharpened his edges for Raster-Noton and on Friday night played this stripped version of his trademark sound in the dark.  The hints of warmth are still incorporated into rhythmic fragments, but ultimately take a back seat.  Instead of a gapless set comprising a continuous groove, he presented a series of his irregular, glitchy rhythms, continually playful in their unpredictability and conscious failure to deliver upon moments of anticipation.  The music tread a very fine line in which it maintained a moving funk but never really escaped from its own precise detail.

Next week Bunker’s back to its utilitarian dance bombast with a visit from Berghain/Panorama, but it was good to hear a change in tempo.