Andy Vaz: Sound_Variation 5-5

Andy Vaz: Sound_Variation 6-6

Andy Vaz: Sound_Variation 7-7

Andy Vaz manages Background Records, the German label that's released fabulous work from artists like Portable, db, Repeat Orchestra, Rhythm Maker, and Oliver Hacke, not to mention the excellent Futuristic Experiments comps. But Vaz has an equally compelling side venture, namely the Sound_Variation vinyl series initiated in 2001. While Background Records specializes in a rich, pan-global, minimal techno, Vaz's Sound_Variation series pushes the minimalism aesthetic even further. In fact, Vaz decided upon [---] in order to represent the label namelessly and thereby downplay delimiting expectations about production styles and genres; similarly, numbers and colour dashes identify releases and tracks are untitled so as to banish associations that conventional titles might promote. (Needless to say, [---] invariably engenders expectations anyway for listeners conversant with genres like minimal techno.)

Each installment in the series of 4/4-based electronic works is built around a small pool of sounds that are recycled and redefined by way of pitch-shifting and other effects, such that drums might be transformed into hi-hats, hi-hats into bass, and so on. Vaz contends that such self-imposed constraints ultimately make for maximal results but, truthfully, the idea isn't entirely new as the principle has been deployed before in electronic circles, although not perhaps as rigorously as it is here. 2001's Sound_Variation 1-1 introduced the deep minimal sound that has become a series trademark, and subsequent installments 2-2, 3-3, and 4-4 further crystallized the label's core themes.

5-5, a two-disc set of remixes, obviously departs from the series' strict principles in its presentation and sound. Unlike the initial releases which include scant information with the discs, 5-5 's cover lists the participants and displays the title Soundvariation Remixes. Vaz gave the nine artists sounds used in the preceding sets with the remixers applying the recycling concept to their own interpretations. The result is a superb collection that manages to be uniform in feel yet stylistically varied. The first disc offers smooth, supple microhouse (Si-Cut.DB, Dean Decosta, Frivolous) and clickhouse (Klunder, Geoff White), while disc two widens the focus with tracks from Frivolous (aromatic microhouse with exotic percussion and vocal accents) and Portable (Alan Abrahams) who shows the same deft hand at marrying exotic African flourishes with German techno as he does on his superb full-length Cycling. In addition, Mitchell Akiyama layers crackle, hiss, and staccato machine patterns overtop a chugging, bass-driven groove while Smyglyssna (Henrik Johansson) submerges his track into a dubby swamp.

6-6 and 7-7 reign in the stylistic variety of 5-5 to reaffirm the series' minimalism theme. 6-6 opens with a low-slung groove of writhing melodies, horn-like accents, and dubby drop-outs; track two begins with seemingly random clicking patterns that gradually cohere into a laconically loping rhythm. The four tracks on 7-7 are livelier and sonically more expansive by comparison. Track one glides out of the gate with a robust click-house pattern peppered by electronic splashes and frog-like mutterings, while the flip features whomping bass throbs underlaid by skittish clicking and darker arrays of clatter and thrum. As if the seven sets weren't enough, Vaz recently released a Sound_Variation Live In Tokyo full-length, recorded in September 2002 at a Background Records showcase. Regardless of whether one's drawn towards the reserved, subtle minimalism of 6-6 or the stylistic riches of 5-5, the Sound_Variation series finds Vaz producing techno of an immaculate and advanced sort.

June 2004